Working at sea and being away from home for long periods can be mentally straining. In a preparatory study, researchers at VTI will examine how prevalent mental ill health is among ship crews in Sweden, and how the shipping companies’ preventative efforts are working.
Ships are very special workplaces where you often spend months at sea, cut off from family and friends. The work and life on board can cause major mental strain.
But knowledge about the mental health of Swedish seamen is in short supply. To obtain and retain various certificates, they must pass health checks, but these do not include mental health. Mental ill health is rarely something you speak about on board.
“There is a macho culture in shipping that makes it hard to speak about, say, feeling depressed,” says Joakim Dahlman, senior researcher at VTI.
Many cases of mental ill health go unreported
A 2014 investigation showed that the second most common reason for sick leave among people with certain types of certificates was mental ill health. It also represented a growing proportion of the problems that the seamen sought help for.
“We were surprised to learn that so many had mental health problems. Many cases probably go unreported as well,” says Joakim Dahlman.
He is now, together with Gabriella Eriksson, leading a preliminary study to examine the prevalence of mental ill health in a large group of ship crew members and how preventative work is being done by the shipping companies, and in practice on board the vessels. This will form the basis for a longitudinal 3-year study which will include monitoring the systematic preventative work on board that has received funding and will start in parallel.
Text: Johan Sievers/redakta
VTI, Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, Sweden