Can technology help with mental health issues at sea?

2nd March 2020
Alex Lynn

Isolation while at sea can mean seafarers fall prey to depression and poor mental health. While technology is often thought of as a solution for keeping people connected, it is also often the reason crew members become isolated in the first place. GlobalData Ship Technology looks at the issues. 

While mental health is a subject which has gained much prominence across all sectors, the issue requires more attention for workers at sea, as being away from home and, at times, being unable to confide in anyone can exacerbate these issues. The rate of suicide for international seafarers is triple that of shore workers, according to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Global crew operations director at shipping company V Ships Andy Cook believes seafarers must help each other and be able to read cues if a colleague is hitting the rocks. “It doesn’t take an expert to have a meaningful conversation, just a bit of common sense,” he said. 

Cook added: “Years ago there used to be more people on board to talk to, there was a social life, there used to be movie nights on board. The only way to watch a film was to go to the mess. Today they have tablets to do that so most finish their shift and go straight to their cabin which is not ideal.”

However, technology does have a part to play, according to Sandra Welch, deputy CEO of Sailors Society, who said: “Increased access to technology can dramatically help seafarers by enabling them to speak to their families regularly.”

Sailor’s Society has developed a Ship Visitor app which allows chaplains to report and share data in real-time, providing continuity of care for seafarers as they travel around the world.

The charity also offers an app called Wellness at Sea which assists seafarers to monitor their own mental health, giving them tips on how to keep mentally fit and signposting them to port welfare support so that they can get help if they need it.

However, Director of employment affairs at the International Chamber of Shipping, Natalie Shaw believes the onus is on senior officers to ensure a supportive environment aboard ships. 

Shaw added: “In an ideal world where everything would be in place you wouldn’t turn to tech to support you because you have another way of dealing with it.”

Welch agrees that while technology can be useful in many ways – more so in the future – it cannot replace a personal touch. 

“Nothing compares to being in the room with someone: listening to them without distraction, allowing them the space to share how they’re feeling, reading their body language, giving them eye contact and counselling them face-to-face,” concluded Welch. “You can’t automate that.”

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