Our ref: HSR/1/9
Head Office Circular: NP/220/22
10th October 2022
To: The Secretary
ALL SHIPPING BRANCHES
WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY 2022 – A MARITIME PERSPECTIVE
On World Mental Health Day, 2002, I remind members that in the maritime world, suicide has been an increasingly concerning phenomenon over the last few years, amid growing discussions on mental health.
A compilation of 20 published reports covering the years 1960–2009, showed that 1,011 seafarer deaths out of 17,026 total seafarer deaths were by suicide – for a percentage of 5.9% of all deaths. They ranged from a low of 3.1% to a high of 18.0%.
A second compilation of 12 reports of deaths due to illness from 1992–2007 showed 590 seafarer deaths by suicide out of 4,573 deaths due to illness, or 13.1% of deaths. In these 12 studies the percentages ranged from a low of 5.7% to a high of 27.5%.
Seafarers are amongst the occupational groups with the highest risk of stress. Lack of training, uncaring work environment, exposure to violence and low job satisfaction are positive correlations for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in seafarers, according to a 2019 study by ITF Seafarer’s Trust and Yale University, while the nature of the job itself is characterised by separation from family and loved ones, isolation and increased workload. If the crew change crisis is added to the equation, the industry’s increased interest in crew mental health becomes understood.
Underreporting remains the major issue when discussing suicide at sea.
RMT recently participated in a study undertaken by the Department for Transport/ Ipsos, entitled “Suicide and Seafarers”. The study concluded that firstly, for suicide to be effectively addressed, a more holistic and proactive attempt to tackle the mental health challenges facing seafarers is required. Secondly, suicide is, for a variety of reasons, most likely being under recorded.
Suicides are preventable. Much can be done to prevent suicide at individual, community and national levels. I ask members - and your employers - to reflect on how they can support someone in their life who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or at risk of suicide. Encouraging understanding and sharing experiences creates a society where people have the confidence to take action, building hope for the future.
Special consideration should be given to those working at sea or on offshore installations, separated from their family and closest friends for weeks at a time, sometimes feeling they are out of sight and out of mind.
If someone does let you know that they are having suicidal thoughts, always take them seriously. You do not have to be an expert, just being there to listen and showing you care can help them work through what is going on. Let them know they are not a burden and there is always someone they can turn to, or a 24/7 helpline such as the Samaritans (Call or text 988 at any time).
It’s okay to ask about suicidal thoughts. It could save a life.
Please bring the contents of this circular to the attention of relevant members.