Re:fresh Study on the Wellbeing of 17.000 Seafarers during Covid-19

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We have all read articles about the mental health challenges that seafarers face, particularly during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The media reported that many seafarers are worried, distressed and under immense pressure. The Re:fresh Wellbeing survey from Marine Benefits confirms that there is truth in such headlines. However, it also reveals that years of training, experience and adaptation to the unique social conditions at sea acts as positive coping mechanisms.

Marine Benefits possesses extensive data on seafarers. Since 2016 – through our Re:fresh surveys – we have collected responses from more than 21,000 seafarers from more than 15 nationalities. In addition to individual company studies, we have also carried out several industry studies. Marine Benefits has produced reports on seafarers from the Philippines, India and Myanmar, as well as a study about women in the shipping industry.

Findings

Over the course of two weeks in October, we surveyed 17,000 seafarers from 27 companies for Re:fresh Wellbeing. We selected questions from Re:fresh that focused solely on psychological and social aspects. This included stress, wellbeing, depression, anxiety, the ‘flow state’, as well as social concerns.

The study showed that stress levels during the pandemic were largely the same as we found them to be pre-Covid-19. This indicates that working on a ship is stressful under any circumstances and not substantially affected by the current situation. In addition, 88% of seafarers reported high levels of wellbeing, a 2% average increase from previous Re:fresh studies. However, the equivalent of 1.5 seafarer per vessel rates as ‘moderately to severely depressed’ on the PHQ-9* depression scale. In addition, it was found that an average of one seafarer per vessel suffered from anxiety, based on the GAD-7* anxiety scale. It was evident that younger seafarers often have the highest levels of depression and anxiety. They are often the crew members that spend the longest periods on board.

Re:fresh Wellbeing showed that fewer seafarers feel discriminated against, bullied or lonely compared to our pre-Covid-19 surveys. However, the number of seafarers who say they have a trusted friend/co-worker to talk to has dropped by an average of 10%. Group activities decreased by about 10% during the pandemic and, although this is understandable, we believe it is important to increase focus on social activities.

Flow state

A positive find is the increase in ‘flow state’ on board. This is when a person is happy in a task, motivated, focused and in control. Flow has increased from 24% to 33%, with the highest levels occurring amongst senior crew members. Our open-ended questions resulted in many seafarers commenting on a lack of manpower, that gave them the opportunity to perform tasks normally carried out by other crew members. For example: “Routine Jobs are now replaced with Preventive Maintenance. Covid-19 has given technical crew the freedom and ability to carry out certain tasks that were not possible during operation.” Anxiety levels related to work have decreased compared, as has boredom.

The challenges facing the industry is not only how to best address the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on seafarers. This is also how positive aspects such as flow can be further encouraged. It was found that people in flow can perform up to five times better and are less prone to taking risks. Because of this a further investigation into creating conditions where such a mental state can be reached, could be highly beneficial.

Notes:

* PHQ-9 – The PHQ-9 and PHQ-2, components of the longer Patient Health Questionnaire, offer psychologists concise, self-administered tools for assessing depression. They incorporate DSM-IV depression criteria with other leading major depressive symptoms into a brief self-report instrument. These are commonly used for screening and diagnosis, as well as selecting and monitoring treatment.

As defined by the American Psychological Association

* GAD-7
General Anxiety Disorder 7 is a seven-question screening tool that identifies whether a complete assessment for anxiety is indicated.

As defined by the Health Resources & Services Administration