Mental Health Awareness – Spotting the Signs Onboard

The mental health of our seafarers is as important today as it’s always been but with increased awareness and new research into this extremely broad but endemic subject, comes investment in the shape of expert support and a better understanding of what we can all do to help struggling crew mates.

The International Seafarers Welfare & Assistance Network (ISWAN) recently conducted research into the welfare of superyacht crew and found that out of nearly 400 respondents, 82% said they had experienced low crew morale ‘sometimes’, ‘often’ or ‘always’. 

Whilst the work itself might not be stressful, the work environment can feel like a pressure-cooker!  Long hours, the expectation for high standards over long periods, working remotely, living and working in confined quarters with crewmates from different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds, the inability to escape a situation or talk things through with family or friends, combined with the fact that it’s often harder to find support outside of the industry.

Don’t lose heart though, there are things you can do to help!

ISWAN’s Caitlin Vaughan gave us some key pointers: 

“Even though there is no set formula to spotting and responding to mental health problems experienced by colleagues, you can help someone going through a tough time by simply giving them the time and space to talk about how they’re feeling. We are regularly contacted by men and women working at sea on our 24 hour helpline, SeafarerHelp, who need to talk through a problem that’s worrying them.”

STEP 1 –Spotting the Signs.

  • BEHAVIOUR – look out for a change in mood or behaviour, perhaps acting differently from the norm. Someone chatty might become reserved, irritable, quick to anger, more withdrawn or might have simply lost a sense of humour.
  • HEALTH – look out for signs of someone taking less care than usual with their appearance, they might be struggling to sleep, regularly complaining of a lack of sleep, increasing their use of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, suffering a change in appetite, complaining about physical pain more than usual or finding they’re more susceptible to minor illnesses.
  • WORK – look out for signs of someone working to a lower standard than usual, they might not be getting tasks completed, lost motivation, struggling with memory loss, finding it difficult to make decisions, being frequently late, over-working, pushing harder than normal, being affected by too much pressure, work overload and complaining more than normal.

STEP 2 – Be Mindful of How Best to Respond.

  • If you’re concerned about a crew mate, prepare to start a relaxed conversation to see how they are.
  • Ask if they’re OK? It can be very normal for people to say they’re ok even if they’re not, so try asking them again so they have another opportunity to open up #asktwice
  • Mention specific things you’ve noticed eg “You haven’t seemed yourself recently, is everything ok?”
  • Listen without judgement, give them time and space to talk and acknowledge that things seem tough for them at the moment.
  • Be aware they may not want to talk to you.  Is there someone else they’d rather talk to? Perhaps suggest contacting someone at home or talk at a later date?

STEP 3– Encouraging Action and Signposting Support.

– Ask “How would you like me to support you?”

– Provide information or assistance to access further support


Live webchat or call back service, free, confidential, multilingual, 365 days a year, wherever you are in the world.


DIRECT DIAL: +44 20 7323 2737

EMAIL: help@seafarerhelp.org

2) Nautilus

24 hour helpline for Nautilus members.


Send an SMS text message to +44 (0)7860 017 119 and they’ll get back to you

Email:  helpline@nautilus247.org

Skype (username nautilus-247)

3) Samaritans


CALL FREE: 116 123

Email: jo@samaritans.org

On the rare occasion that you find yourself faced with a real emergency, alert someone trained to provide the appropriate emergency support.  In the meantime, keep talking and do what you can do keep someone safe until the appropriately trained individual can get there and provide the necessary support.