Burnout syndrome risks in merchant marine seafarers

Burnout syndrome risks in merchant marine seafarers

The population of seafarers, especially merchant navy officers, is one of the most exposed to the development of burnout syndrome.


Advertising message Burnout syndrome is defined as a complex psycho-physiological phenomenon, characterized by physical, emotional and psychological exhaustion, caused by prolonged emotional stress. The main symptoms are cynicism, depersonalization, decrease in enthusiasm and a sense of effectiveness in the workplace, detachment from one’s job. Furthermore, burnout is considered as a subjective reaction to work-related stress, with the aim of adapting or protecting itself (Oldenburg, M., Jensen, HJ, Wegner R., 2013). Therefore, the person is prone to develop burnout if he has extreme emotional involvement in the job and does not have adequate coping strategies.

The working condition of the merchant naval officers is already a source of stress in itself, the International Maritime Health Association itself has established that “the profession of seafarers is one of the most physically and emotionally demanding, and is carried out in one of the most dangerous environments , the sea.”

The main risk factors have been described in the “Guidelines for mental assistance on Merchant Ships” and include:

Advertising message Preventing and assessing burnout is a fundamental aspect, as individuals may not have adequate coping strategies and may put at risk behaviors such as alcohol abuse, drugs or develop other internalizing disorders such as depression. In this regard, Kemalova & Nikonorova (2019) proposed a training for the prevention of professional burnout in seafarers, with the aim of teaching the main coping skills and emotional self-regulation. The training consists of 20 hours and is divided into 4 modules:

Although it does not directly concern burnout, other useful solutions have been proposed for prevention, but above all the recognition of mental disorders in seafarers. For example, the International Committee on Seafarers Welfare (ICSW) has produced brochures, for example “Guidelines for the Mental Care of Seafarers on board Merchant Ships”. The latter is made up of 12 humorous cartoon illustrations that cover the following topics: risks for seafarers, stress, harassment and bullying, anxiety, depression, disruptive thoughts and behavior, alcohol and drug addiction, mental health on board, tips for correct implementation of a mental assistance campaign.

Another interesting project was created by the Melbourne Rotary Club, which proposed to print brochures on a single topic, depression. The brochures were distributed to more than 2,000 ships that docked in the ports of the state of Victoria, with the aim of helping crew members identify people with depression and help them. Each booklet, translated into English, Chinese and Russian, contains a checklist to identify a person with depression, guidelines on how to help them and an emergency number to contact, operating 24 hours a day.