Need for Psychologists in the Maritime Industry

Need for Psychologists in the Maritime Industry

From counselling, training to psychometrics; there is a great need for psychologists and mental health professionals to involve in the marine industry. Almost all the countries live import some of its basic requirements for its day to day living. Grains, oils, ores, fuels, finished goods, machinery, spare parts all are brought in through containers or in cargoes by ships. The people who are responsible for the safe operations of this import and export process are called seafarers, who work on these vessels for months facing rough weather, stringent inspections, disturbed sleep and many other hardships. Shipping is one of the oldest trade and is often an ignored industry as, seafarers are the dark horses running the world’s economy. Some of the previous studies reveal that this field needs as much attention as any hazardous field.

The Nature of this job has a negative impact as well. Some of them are discussed as follows.

Person-Job Fit

The right person for the right job is crucial in high hazard industry. All the more so, when there are no adequate venues to de-stress or seek social support. Choosing emotionally stable and adaptive personnel goes a long way in making sure that the operations are smooth and running. Hence, Psychometric Assessments play a major role in the industry. Psychological preparation is also important to prepare them about life at sea.

“A qualified and trained psychologist is always in demand in the industry while selecting, training and promoting seafarers.”


Stress is the process by which events in the environment (stressors) pose a threat to us, how these threats are interpreted, and the feeling that they induce in us (Baum, et. al., 1997). Stress experienced by workers at work is called job stress. In this fast-paced life, any job or work environment involves a certain level of stress. Depending on the workplace, the stressors could be internal or external (Rengamani & Murugan, 2012). Seafarers face a greater deal of stress compared to people who work a regular, 9 am – 5 pm job, often faced with time pressure and hectic activity during the voyage. There is a heavy toll on their physical health as well, with the responsibility increasing as their rank goes higher up the ladder. In addition to the stress of their work, there is also the threat of piracy that causes anticipatory stress, especially in regions that are prone to piracy attacks, such as the Indian Ocean (Garfinkle, Katz, & Saratchandra, 2012).

Generally speaking, much like with any job, there is a need for some psychological support in such a highly stressful environment. Just as taking care of physical health is important on-board, so is mental well-being. It is pertinent to pay importance to mental health, as it has a great deal of impact on how seafarers think, feel and behave while onboard. Some of the most pressing psychological concerns while onboard are the long working days, combined with the constantly changing temperature. Such conditions seem to affect the overall duration and quality of work, as well as seafarers physical health, according to a study conducted by Rengamani & Murugan (2012). Furthermore, the study also pointed out that staying away from their families for such long periods of time seems to have a significant impact on their psychosocial well-being, coupled with conflicts with their fellow crew members. There are chances that such stressors might develop into psychological problems of greater concern and might require intervention by a trained professional.

In such cases of stress and anxiety shipping companies regularly call for psychologists to provide relaxation, crisis management and stress management sessions for their employees.


Research has shown that seafarers’ fatigue plays a large impact on mental and physical well-being, and the impact can be understood when observed in combination with other precipitating factors. In a comprehensive evaluation of such factors, it was revealed that seafarers’ fatigue is a result of risk factors that are operational, organisational and environmental in nature (Smith, Allen, & Wadsworth, 2006). In such situations, it is prudent to counsel with a mental health professional and arrive at a possible solution. Constant fatigue may have a larger impact on work quality and performance, and in such a high-risk environment, it is important to address these concerns as soon as possible. Furthermore, Psychological Capital seems to be a predictor of seafarers’ fatigue, and can thus be utilized to understand how it can be addressed as well.

“Awareness of health and health habits, psychoeducation, safe practices are essential training to be given by a mental health professional.”

Threats from pirates, diseases, authorities

Seafarers have reported relatively normal working conditions, and do not feel stress extensively. However, the threat of piracy does seem to impact their stress levels. Conflict and tensions are seemingly high in areas that are known for piracy, such as the Indian Ocean (Garfinkle et al., 2012). This anticipation of threat has led to them wanting to either arm themselves or to have armed guards on board. Beyond the impact on mental health, this sense of constant vigilance might have, the damage suffered by seafarers post an actual attack is more severe. According to a study conducted by Abila & Tang (2014), Filipino seafarers who were held hostage by pirates and later released seemed to show signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, the signs were not recognised early on and they were not provided appropriate psychological care and intervention following such a traumatic and stressful event. This iterates the great need for psychologists in the seafaring industry. One of the concerns that are repetitive among the literature is how the seafarers feel that do not receive adequate follow-up care, beyond the base evaluation post a traumatic event. Additionally, according to Garfinkle et al. (2012), seafarers have reported that they did not feel adequately prepared, mentally, for “traversing in known zones of piracy”. A psychological professional is required to oversee training to ensure they are appropriately prepared for what lies ahead.

Seafaring is an occupation that is rife with risks, both physically and mentally. There is a high risk of contracting diseases in such a communal environment, and this might have a larger impact on the morale of the group (Oldenburg, Baur, & Schlaich, 2010).

“Risk of diseases lies ahead and it’s important to orient them about precautions and healthy living.”

Family, relationships and loneliness

Staying away from family for so long can also have a detrimental impact on their marital life, and more elaborately, their family life (i.e. relationship with spouse and children) (Thomas, Sampson & Zhao, 2003). There is a high risk of the emergence of feelings of isolation, which could cause a certain level of distress. The isolation might also be influenced by the quality of their relationship with their co-workers. There is a great risk of suicide and/or suicidal ideations among seafarers. This indicates to the prevalent need for psychological support and intervention. Additionally, unlike with most generic professions, in case of family emergencies, there is no chance for seafarers to immediately depart and voyage back home. This could also have an impact on their feeling of despair and isolation.

“Living apart can have its toll and a relationship expert is required to intervene to clarify roles and strengthen relationships.”

Psychology and Shipping

The field of psychology has multiple divisions, and in its own, each of these divisions might play a very important role in providing mental health care for seafarers. A trained psychologist is required to provide appropriate information in the form of specifically curated modules regarding the psychosocial risks that seafarers would face, in order to prepare them sufficiently. A consultant psychologist would be necessary to administer psychometric evaluations during the recruitment and for any further promotions, especially for a leadership role. Counselling psychologist is necessary to provide timely and appropriate psychological interventions at times of need, often times through the telephone or video calls. Furthermore, a marital/family psychologist might be required to provide support for the family members of seafarers and provide assistance when there is a friction in the relationship.

Many accidents happen on board making this a risky job. This could also cause PTSD, depression or anxiety.

A psychologist consulted to deal with many problems on board such as poor team relationships on board due to hierarchy, cultural differences, burnout, harassment, accidents and so on.

In conclusion, psychologists play a very meaningful, and essential role to ensure the well-being of seafarers. Thus, there is a need to streamline psychological support by the maritime organisation by either having an in-house counsel or have a consultant psychologist on retainer to meet the need of the seafarers as and when it arises.

About the Author

Dr Sandhya Rani Ramadas
Organizational Psychologist.

Dr. Sandhya Rani is an organizational psychologist. She has done her M Sc and M Phil in psychology and has a  

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