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A new report into mental health and seafarer suicide in the maritime industry has found that despite evidence showing that the issue is a serious one, there has never been an agreed international framework for recording suicides at sea, which has resulted in many believing that suicides remain underreported.

Conducted by the Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the study found that this occupation is an extremely challenging one, based in an entirely unique social environment.

Structural issues were found to put pressure on mental health and wellbeing, such as isolation, fatigue, working long hours and financial instability. In addition, it was widely felt that the pandemic has put even more strain on seafarers, while mental health issues within seafarers and the industry as a whole were described as poorly understood.

Study participants acknowledged that suicide among seafarers was a self-evidently serious issue – and that the industry could and should do more. It was also found that suicide is inherently rooted in the mental health challenges facing seafarers and isn’t an isolated phenomenon.

Additionally, a significant uncertainty problem was revealed, with survey participants questioning the viability of ever being sure cases are definitively suicide.

Desired changes included tackling mental health among seafarers in a more holistic and preventative manner, rather than in a reactive fashion. 

Mental health fitness could also be embedded from the top down through onboard and organisational culture, as well as through cadet training and recruitment strategies.

Human Rights at Sea welcomed the new report and commented on the findings, saying: “We reinforce and support the increasing sector-wide calls for a robust and accurate reporting system so that the scale of suicide at sea can be understood, and so that better targeted crew management measures can be engaged.

“We further welcome the linking of mental health, suicide, and human rights. The right to safe work, and the right to health are long established human rights which must be respected by all employers, owners, and operators at sea.”

The organisation did note that movement is now being seen, with mental wellbeing support from the MCA now showing promise, such as recently published guides to spread awareness of mental health conditions and launching the Wellbeing at Sea resource.