Mental health challenges facing seafarers

The latest quarterly helpline data released by the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) highlights the diverse range of mental health challenges facing seafarers.


Calls and messages from seafarers relating to mental health increased by 37% in the last quarter (Q2 2023 – April to June) across all helplines operated by ISWAN. Seafarers contacted ISWAN’s helplines from across the maritime sector, from shipping to the cruise and superyacht industries.

In Q2 2023, 18% of seafarers who contacted ISWAN’s helplines about their mental health were experiencing family or relationship issues. These included difficulties in relationships with partners and anxiety about relatives who are unwell. Isolation and homesickness were also among the causes of mental health issues for seafarers, demonstrating the impact of the remote nature of working at sea.

16% of seafarers who raised mental health challenges in Q2 2023 were experiencing abuse, bullying, harassment, discrimination or violence (ABHDV). Cases included discrimination on the basis of sexuality or religion as well as bullying by senior officers. In the previous quarter (Q1 2023), ISWAN reported a significant increase in ABHDV-related cases across its helplines, with a particularly sharp increase on ISWAN’s helpline for the yachting industry, Yacht Crew Help, identifying this as a key problem area to address.

Another issue consistently linked with mental health difficulties among seafarers contacting ISWAN’s helplines is repatriation (14% of mental health-related cases in Q2 2023). However, seafarers also reported a range of other issues linked to mental health difficulties in the last quarter, including work-related stress, anxiety about physical health issues, and substance abuse.

The effects of such challenges to mental health can be exacerbated at sea, where seafarers are away from their usual support networks of family and friends, and living with their co-workers in often confined quarters. ISWAN’s series of infographics aims to shine a spotlight on the issues faced by seafarers to help the maritime sector identify where action is needed.

ISWAN’s Helpline Manager Chester Quintal said: ‘When a seafarer is struggling, they need to know that support is always available and easy to access, and our 24-hour helplines provide a safe, non-judgemental space to talk to someone about any problems or worries. The trends we identify in the issues raised by seafarers inform our work at ISWAN and help us respond to areas of need, and we are sharing these insights with the wider industry so that others can do the same.’

ISWAN’s infographic, ISWAN Insights: Spotlight on Q2 2023, can be downloaded below. For more information, please contact ISWAN at

ISWAN has recently published an overview of how it is developing its use of helpline data to provide insights and inform future work – read it here.

ISWAN’s free, confidential, multilingual helplines are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to offer support or someone to talk to. SeafarerHelp ( is available to any seafarer or family member, and Yacht Crew Help ( provides support specifically to those working on board yachts. ISWAN’s helpline team is trained in providing emotional support and offers a listening ear to any seafarer with a worry or problem.

This article is shared by courtesy of ISWAN –

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