Guidelines to Shipping Companies on Mental Health Awareness

Mental illness is estimated to cost UK businesses £30billion every year, through lost production, recruitment and absence. The Office of National Statistics has reported that one in six adults will be experiencing a mental health problem at any one time. The chances of members of ships’ crews being affected are therefore statistically high – and may be exacerbated by particular aspects of seafaring, such as separation from family and isolation.

The terms “mental health” and “mental illness” refer to the social, psychological and emotional well-being of individuals. Mental illnesses, which include conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, anorexia nervosa, obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis and schizophrenia, may be less visible than many physical disabilities but their effects on affected individuals can be very serious.

Sometimes they manifest themselves as alcohol or drug dependency – meaning that employers and their advisers should seek to identify the root causes of the more visible detrimental effects.

In some cases seafarers who suffer from mental illness may be deemed unfit for work; in others, appropriate action by employers may have beneficial effects on the seafarer’s wellbeing and their work performance.

The UK Chamber of Shipping, Nautilus International and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) have jointly agreed the following guidelines to shipping companies on drawing up policies on mental health and mental illness. Companies are recommended to adopt such policies; if they already have policies in place, they are recommended to review them in the light of these guidelines.