Work pressures affecting mental health of port workers

Published: Monday, May 9, 2022 - 11:23

In March, PSS held the second annual Mental Health Awareness Week, highlighting the hidden risks associated with depression and anxiety in ports, we also launched the annual PSS Mental Health Survey to study the impact of mental health programs on the sector. Thank you to all those who responded, the responses you provided will go towards shaping PSS mental health advice and workshops in the future.

The survey revealed that almost 30% of participants were concerned about their finances, and around a third had experienced some form of mental ill-health in the previous twelve months, which they largely attributed to work pressures.

The ability to perform well at work and earn a good wage plays a significant role in a worker’s mental health, and when one suffers so does the other. This can create a downward spiral of poor performance and worsening mental health. There is significant evidence to suggest stress is a root cause of certain physical ailments which could result in lost workdays and a higher risk of accidents at work. PSS board member Dr Alan Page, notes that a ‘whole person’ approach to health and safety will pay dividends later in the form of improved productivity and reduced expenses.

Over half the respondents said they were not eating or sleeping the right amount which can be a sign of mental distress as well as a risk to working safely. Chronic fatigue and difficulty falling asleep can lead to poor attentiveness, providing another avenue for potential lapses in safety.

As part of mental health week, PSS published a number of case studies, one of which highlighted that society is beginning to embrace the idea of mental health posing a serious threat to individuals and move away from the ideas that “men leave their emotions at the port gates” and get on with the job in hand. Our survey indicated that in today’s ports a fifth of respondents would prefer a conversation with a close colleague about their mental health, a figure that still needs improving but shows that port workers are finding support amongst their colleagues

It is evident that people would rather talk to a friend they could trust, rather than a stranger, regardless of their qualifications. It is clear that ports are recognising this, with nearly 70% of respondents saying their workplace had mental health first aiders, there was also a strong call for more mental health awareness training which PSS will be working to provide in the future.

The survey also revealed that 10% had experienced addiction to food, alcohol, or narcotics in the last twelve months, depicting a worrying picture when extrapolated to the wider industry. Substance dependence is very often a symptom of mental ill-health, both of which lead to a heightened risk of accidents occurring.

The data revealed in the PSS Mental Health Survey is intended to provide an overview of the state of mental health in the ports industry and it highlights several aspects of mental wellbeing that have not previously been addressed by the wider industry. It is clear that progress is being made, but gaps remain and PSS will continue to work with the sector to addressing these silent threats to safety in ports.