7 September 2020

Mental health in Maritime & COVID-19

Industry News
Employees of the maritime sector are arguably more vulnerable than most, even outside of a global mental health crisis. A 2019 study found that, while it’s “difficult to establish the extent of ill mental health among seafarers relative to comparable populations”, there is evidence of increases among seafarers. They also found that maritime workers in some roles might be particularly prone to emotional exhaustion and ‘burnout’.

So if this was the case pre-virus outbreak, how are maritime workers now? How should employers react?

The main issues

According to All At Sea, advocacy hub for seafarers, “There has been a massive amount of uncertainty across the industry. Particularly around travel between countries, which has led to many workers not being able to join or leave ships.”

When the pandemic began, a reported 300,000 seafarers were left stranded at sea. This on top of dealing with the usual issues that can affect your mental health whilst working at sea.

First-hand experiences

We spoke to a cross section of the sector’s employees about their own experiences. Understandably, the results were mixed.

For some, lockdown has had a positive impact. One respondent said: “Personally it hasn’t affected me negatively at all. If anything, my mental health has improved.”

Another also spoke positively about their recent situation. “The pandemic didn’t affect my mental health. To me, working from ‘home’ has just required new organisation to adjust to a new environment.”

Some of our responses however suggest that in areas of maritime where workload has increased, stress has followed. One employee said their mental health had been heavily negatively affected. “Workload has increased, and I work longer hours than I did before.”

How can employers help?

Maritime charities, P&I clubs and stakeholder organisations see mental health and welfare as important issues. Yet most employers don’t match up. Just over half of employer respondents said their companies hadn’t introduced any policies to address seafarers’ mental health in the last ten years. Here are some things to consider:

Work-life balance

Respondents spoke about work-life balance. One said: “The company has become more flexible when it comes to working remotely, especially for those with young children at home and commuters,” while another revealed their employer had helped by introducing a new holiday policy. “HR has been very supportive during the pandemic, and has now implemented a forced holidays scheme.” This forces workers to disconnect, take holidays and prioritise their mental health.


Uncertainty is one of the key drivers for stress and anxiety, so it’s vital that employers provide regular updates on what’s happening inside and outside of their organisations.

One worker suggested employers invest more time in two-way communication. “It could be a short phone call just to see how employees are coping mental health wise, or just regular email updates.”

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