Communication Human factor Loss Prevention - Monthly themes

Communication about mental health

Effective communication is important but it is likewise important that we dare to communicate about sensitive subjects — the subject we should communicate more about is the seafarers' mental health. 

Marine Deck Officer on deck of offshore vessel shutterstock_1573853056

Communication is an important subject when working at sea. Effective communication is important but it is likewise important that we dare to communicate about sensitive subjects, that is not often discussed but affects the safety and the performance on board in a high degree —the subject we should communicate more about is the seafarers´ mental health. This subject is at many ships and in the society still stigmatised and an unexplored area to prevent.

The mental health wheel

The parts that contributes to mental health can be visualised as a mental health wheel.

The mental health wheel is divided in 6 different areas. If all this areas is strongly fulfilled, your mental health is good and secure. You are your best potential. The more parts that is low in the six different areas, the harder it is for the wheel to run smooth and your mental health, and other factors that come with it like motivation and performance are compromised.

The wheel can very from day to day, but perform better the more often it can run without missing parts. Of course there could be other factors that affect mental health but the wheel is an overview.

The parts in the different areas when they are in place and when they are not:

Parts in the mental health areas

When the parts are missing in the wheel

Healthy stimulation


Sustainable working environment Stressful working environment
Manageable changes Fast changes
Time to complete jobs according to the plan Not enough time to do jobs properly
Do one thing at the time Multitasking
Wise leadership Bad leadership
Positive workplace culture Bad relationships between co-workers
Home situation that is customized for your work situation Home situation that cannot be managed on distance

Positive thought patterns

Negative thought patterns

Logical objective thoughts/ helicopter perspective Rumination
Positive thoughts about yourself Negative thoughts about yourself
Positive thoughts about others and environment Negative thoughts about others and environment
Complete honesty to oneself Avoiding unwanted thoughts
Trust that everything will work out for the best Loss of imagined control
Fact-based world view Irrational worldview based on biases

Physical health

Physical ill health

Healthy food Unhealthy food
Exercise that fits your needs Not enough exercise

Emotional well-being: I often feel…

Emotional displeasure: I often feel..

calm and confident scared or afraid
in control of my own life helpless
appreciated unappreciated
fulfilled in life empty
that I can reach my goal frustrated
forgiving angry
joy sad
enough sociable lonely
comprehension why something happened irritated

Social well-being

Social isolation

Manageable contact with home Not enough contact with family
At least one person onboard to talk other things than work with Nobody to talk other things than work with onboard
Relationship where you feel deep trust (1-3 is recommended) No close friend

Well rested


Enough time to sleep Not enough time to sleep
Enough qualitative sleep Not enough qualitative sleep


An example how a person’s mental health wheel can look like:

This person’s mental health wheel can roll quite smoothly but there are some missing parts that can lead to an unbalance and if not stabilized with strengthening practices, can affect the persons overall well-being, motivation and performance.

Poor mental health is something that EVERYONE has sometime, in some period of life. It is not consisting and it can vary from day to day. Mental health is like a muscle that needs regular training to be healthy. Some people has naturally good mental health, but everyone take benefit of training the “mental health muscle”.

Shipping can be a stressful environment with many factors contributing. Latest research is showing horrible numbers in seafarers’ well-being and mental health and it is important to bring this subject up to the surface for discussion. It is also important to be honest to yourself how you really feel and take action to prevent poor mental health.

Some numbers to discuss in crew meetings:

Some of the key findings in Seafarer Mental Health Study by ITF Seafarers’ Trust and Yale University (2019)

  • 25 % of the seafarers in the study had scores suggesting depression
  • 17 % of the seafarers in the study had scores suggesting anxiety
  • 20 % of the seafarers in the study had suicidal ideation

You can read about the study here on ITF Seafarers’ Trust web page

A good role model

A good role model is someone that can share how they actually feel to others to help get rid of the stigma around mental health. The strongest person is not the one that seem like a stone and never show any feelings, it is the person that fights every day to take action to prevent one´s and others mental health. The motivation is often very low when having poor mental health, so it takes a true seafarer’s power to speak up about it or take action to increase mental health.

In the NOT ON MY WATCH CAMPAIGN by Sailors’ Society: A brave Captain, Dan Thompson speaks openly about his depression.



What can I do to improve mental health?


1. Sailors’ Society has a well-known and established program to train mental health: Wellness at Sea.

Here are some materials from the program for your benefit:

2. To be well-rested is essential to prevent mental health

See Fatigue Self Help Manual from the MARTHA Project Team (Claire Pekcan)

3. Courses in Mental Health, download 29k

There is a new app you can download from the Apple App store or the Google Play store that have courses to train mental health and well-being that is also free of charge; 29k. OBS! This is not custom made for seafarers, so you might need good internet access for the app.

The courses in 29k is based on the latest psychological research and created from world-leading researchers and psychologists from Karolinska Institute, Harvard University and University of London.

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