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How mental illness should be prevented

21 October 2019

Depressed sailors have always slipped under the radar. But now, when shipping implements the Swedish Work Environment Authority's regulations on organizational and social work environment, there is no turning back. The mental health problems of seafarers and its causes must be made visible, mapped and, above all – prevented.

“I'm sitting here with a patient who wants a renewed certificate for inland shipping. They see and hear perfectly well and thus meet the requirements, but otherwise the health is not good. How long should certificates be printed for persons who should not be allowed to participate in the heavy work on board? Furthermore, the person has a central role in the ship's security organization. "

After many calls from the Swedish Board of Transport it was decided, five years ago, to investigate the possibility of extending the health checks for the certificates of inland and fishermen. The assignment was given to Joakim Dahlman and a research group at Chalmers to map what types of diseases were most common among seamen and what experiences the doctors had.

”We did a large register study where we lifted people with the certificates "inland" and "fisherman". It turned out that the second most common cause of sick leave in the group was mental illness”, Joakim Dahlman says.

It was a big surprise. The fact that people sought care to such an extent for depression, stress, fatigue, etc., was not one to expect.

”But we did not have time to delve more into these figures in that particular study.”

Five years later, however, the opportunity to do it has arisen. Within the framework of the Swedish Transport Administration's industry program Sustainable shipping operated by Lighthouse, VTI works through Joakim Dalman and his colleague Gabriella Eriksson with a pre-study in which a new in-depth and more comprehensive register study is being carried out. Data is also collected from shipping companies, occupational health services and authorities. The idea is to investigate the extent and causes of mental illness in a larger part of Swedish shipping.

”We have a hypothesis that there is also a relatively high representation of mental illness among other certificates, areas of operation and occupational categories”, Joakim Dahlman, says.

But a sailor who feels unwell doesn't complain. One keeps it to himself. If you need to go to the hospital, it is done in your spare time so that it is not noticed at work.
"I have a suspicion that the problem is not less in those groups who goes on long trades at sea but it will surely differ between the occupational groups on board.

The study is also linked to the Work Environment Act's supplement (AFS 2015: 4), which regulates the psychosocial work environment and which shipping will implement now,  three years after it came into force."
"This means that shipping must now have a completely different organization for handling and preventing mental illness."

More articles on projects within Sustainable Shipping (The articles are translated):
Better port state control could benefit the environment
Clean hulls wins in the long run
In the harbor, the underwater noise echoes
In search of keys to fossil free waterborne public transports
We need to focus on the social dimensions
What is the similarity between a weightlifter and a ship?

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