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Mental illness in shipping lower than expected

22 December 2022

According to a pre-study from Lighthouse and the Swedish Transport Administration, one in ten in the maritime sector seeks treatment for mental illness. It is not as bad as the researchers behind the study first thought.

“We did a large register study where we lifted people with the "inland" and "fisherman" certificates from the shipping register and ran them against the Swedish Social Insurance Agency’s various disease, cancer and mortality registers. When we got the numbers back from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency’s, it turned out that the second most common reason for sick leave in the group was mental illness”, says Joakim Dahlman, who is today head of research at VTI.

That people sought treatment on such a large scale for depression, stress, exhaustion, etc., was a big and alarming surprise and since then the researchers have wanted to do a larger study on mental illness - one that includes the entire seamen's register. And that is exactly what was done in the pre-study Psykisk ohälsa i sjöfarten (Mental illness in shipping).

“During the period 2011 to 2021, ten percent of the members of the maritime register have sought treatment for mental illness. It's not as bad as we thought. We haven't been able to compare with any other occupational category, but I don't think that one in ten makes shipping stand out as particularly affected by mental illness”, says Joakim Dahlman.

However, of those affected, more were admitted to inpatient care than sought outpatient care. It may indicate that there are more people who are in need of help but who do not seek it.

“A simple explanation for why seamen are seeking care late could be that you do not come into contact with care as easily as those who have a land-based profession. It is far from all shipping lines and companies that offer occupational health care.”

Historically, the superintendent staff in shipping have been worst affected by mental illness. But according to study, that is not the case now. Instead, it is crew on deck who are most affected, followed by crew in machinery.

“I could not have guessed that. I probably thought the superintendent would stand out, followed by machine.”

Joakim Dahlman believes that the crew on deck are most affected by mental illness may have something to do with increased stress.

Psykisk ohälsa I sjöfarten, en prevalensstudie has been written by Joakim Dahlman (VTI) Per Henriksson (VTI) Helena Selander (VTI) Monica Lundh (Chalmers). The project has been carried out within the Swedish Transport Administration's industry program Sustainable shipping, which is run by Lighthouse.

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