The maritime sector should invest more in supporting the mental health of its seafarers as ships’ crews contend with mounting anxiety over when they are to be repatriated as well as concerns over the vaccine and the health of their families back home.

This was the assessment of clinical specialists Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS) in response to a published report by the University of Oxford which revealed that contracting Covid-19 is ‘robustly associated’ with an increased risk of developing mental health and neurological conditions in the six months after a diagnosis, a study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Oxford looked at the TriNetX electronic 2020 health records of more than 230,000 Covid-19 patients, mostly from the US. Their study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal and said to be the largest of its kind to date, estimated that one in three Covid-19 survivors (34%) were diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric condition within six months of being infected.

Charles Watkins, Managing Director and Clinical Psychologist at MHSS, said: “We’re witnessing a steady increase in critical cases onboard vessels. It’s not a huge surprise considering the immense stress and pressure crew have been under this last year with the pandemic. The Covid-19 study shows the direct link between the virus and the brain and the damage it can cause. We are seeing psychosis and an increase in anxiety onboard and if we mix post-Covid-19 research into the mix then it clearly shows that we’re dealing with a bigger issue than previously realised.”

Christian Ayerst, CEO at MHSS, added: “Companies need to invest in professional psychological support. Our internal research shows that there’s a steady increase in critical cases onboard but also if we use the University of Oxford research too, then we need to be on guard for longer term issues.

“Our seafarers rallied when the world went into lockdown to protect civilians from the virus, now it’s industry’s time to invest and support them.”

MHSS works with partners to achieve positive mental health throughout an organisation with the support of its clinical psychologists. MHSS also runs a confidential 24/7 mental health hotline number manned by professionals for seafarers onboard and ashore. It provides 1:1 counselling alongside training initiatives to support crew and provide a greater understanding of mental health and how to build resilience.