Maritime, aviation, railway workers are susceptible to mental health issues, says ITF

Credit: Jake Lester Bodegas

Tells unions, employers, government to prioritise mental health of all workers

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) says aviation, maritime and railway workers are susceptible to mental issues.

ITF urged stakeholders across the transport sector to come together and recognise their collective responsibility in prioritising the mental health of all workers. ITF also called for a collaborative approach that will synergise the existing efforts of trade unions, employers, and all relevant stakeholders including government and international agencies across the industry, to achieve a common understanding and establish a plan of action that will help to drive real and lasting change.

Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary, made the call in a statement to mark the World Mental Health Day on Sunday 10 October 2021.  

“With the high-risk nature of mental health only just beginning to be widely addressed across the transport sector, the ITF urged employers to recognise their responsibility, step up, come together, and take action to make a change.

“Workers across the transport sector have long been experiencing unparalleled levels of stress and pressure in roles which by their nature and environment make them more susceptible to mental health issues. Seafarers, long-distance truckers, and some railway workers, in particular, are away from home for extended periods of time, meaning they are more difficult to reach and for them to reach out themselves. Limited access to services, information, communication, family and friends contributes to compromised mental health. Additionally, the stigma that surrounds mental health in the transport sector can often make it difficult for workers to address their issues and seek support.

‘These relentless challenges have only been exacerbated by the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. Transport workers are facing very real concerns around salary cuts, job loss, sickness, and extended periods of isolation. The increased anxiety is likely contributing to increased psychological distress and therefore an increased risk of developing mental health problems. The ITF is calling for more to be done, and fast.

“The ITF believes that the need for all stakeholders to consolidate their individual learnings and take direct action is becoming increasingly obvious. Reports illustrate the harsh reality that many across the maritime industry are struggling with their day-to-day activities. In 2019, long before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ITF Seafarers Section and ITF Seafarers’ Trust commissioned Yale University of medicine to conduct a study on, “Mental Health and Risk Factors in Seafarers”. According to the study, the prevalence of depression and anxiety among the surveyed seafarers was 25% and 17%, respectively. There is no doubt that the past 18 months will have increased these shocking statistics.

“While for some employers across the maritime industry tackling the challenge of mental health can seem like a daunting task, the ITF are resolute in their assertion that the time is now to take collective action. Transport workers cannot wait any longer for a better and more consistent approach to mental health support, particularly as we continue to deal with the aftershocks of the pandemic,” said Stephen Cotton.

Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary, added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted maritime transport workers and those from the wider transport industry in a myriad of ways, including stress and anxiety about health and family, social isolation, and mental and physical fatigue.

“Even though limited measures such as access to helplines and communications were put in place by some employers during the pandemic, this World Mental Health Day we are urging the industry to come together to create a centralised plan of action that will give mental health the focus and attention it needs and deserves. The workforce we represent are key workers who often go underappreciated for their efforts, they need help and support now more than ever. Let’s not let them down.”

The ITF recognises the mental health crisis across the transport sector and continues to develop and implement initiatives via its global Wellbeing Programme, aimed at increasing awareness, providing support, and initiating change. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, life for the seafaring community has been extremely challenging, making the continued support of the Programme all the more important.

To respond to the specific conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic, Cotton said  ITF launched its innovative ‘Reflect, Recognise, and Reach out’ digital campaign. The campaign utilises social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share information, advice, and support on managing stress, depression, and other mental health issues. Based on three core pillars, the campaign encourages seafarers to reflect on the challenges being faced and the effects on their mental health so they could be addressed, recognise the early signs and symptoms of stress to mitigate the effects, and ultimately reach out to get support while signposting to services and other sources of support.

Jacqueline Smith, ITF Maritime Coordinator, commented “Deteriorating mental wellbeing has long been a growing concern for the maritime industry. Seafarers’ psychological health issues are often sparked by poor conditions and long working hours, as well as money worries and even the loneliness that comes with spending so much time away from family and friends. I strongly support the call for the wider transport industry to implement clear and robust guidance regarding mental health, and factor it into existing policies where appropriate.”

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