2–5 September 2025
P&J Live, Aberdeen, Scotland

Mental Health in Offshore Oil and Gas

Written by UTM Consultants

Situated in the open sea and working with hazardous equipment and chemicals, offshore workers face more taxing demands than your average employee. 

Whilst physical safety has always been at the forefront for employers and trade bodies, the industry still lags behind the rest of the working world in mental health. “The biggest risk factor we have left is our own refusal to respond to issues of mental health and wellbeing across the industry,” says Dr. Steve Smith, a senior lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing at the Robert Gordon University. 

Weeks-long isolation, long working hours, and high-pressure environments make offshore platforms as mentally challenging as they are physically. But unlike gas leaks or burst pipes, these threats are harder to detect, and subsequently, harder to address. Below, we’ll tackle the current state of psychological health in the offshore industry, its most pressing threats and what companies are doing to improve the situation. 

Fatigue and Long Rotations

Britons have longer working hours than the average European–around eight and a half per week, according to a study by Eurostat. On offshore rigs and platforms, the days are even longer. For the average offshore worker, a 12-hour shift is the standard. Workers keep these hours for weeks at a time, which can result in elevated stress and anxiety. 

The solution isn’t as simple as cutting hours. Offshore work consists of patterns of spending two or more weeks on-site, followed by a leave of roughly the same length. Many North Sea companies made three weeks their baseline following the downturn of 2014. Returning to shorter rotas is showing a positive impact for many. “It is my experience that if you’re working a two-week rota with your people your baseline of morale, very probably, is going to be up above that of a similar installation on a three-week rota,” says Gordon Craig, who has served as the North Sea’s dedicated chaplain since 2012. 

Social Isolation in Confined Spaces

Offshore workers spend weeks, sometimes months, in often unnatural environments, away from family and friends. Cramped living spaces, the constant racket of loud machinery, and lack of isolation can grate on one’s psyche, especially after prolonged periods of time. 

Poor Internet connectivity on platforms can further compound the problem. Onshore, chatting with a loved one is as simple as pressing a button. On rigs, where WiFi is spotty at best and non-existent at worst, such simple conveniences are a rare luxury. 

Socialisation on platforms can be challenging, due to the transitory and often multinational nature of teams. It’s not unusual to be assigned to remote locations halfway around the world. In the UK, expats make up around 12 percent of the offshore oil and gas workforce. 

Different cultural norms and language barriers can prevent individuals from forming deeper bonds beyond work, even when staying together for weeks at a time. Expats in particular have been found to struggle with immersing themselves in the local context, according to research on job localisation in the offshore oil and gas industry. 

The Challenges of Raising Awareness

The psychological stress of offshore work is widely known, yet seldom acknowledged. Talking about mental and emotional stress is still taboo for many who work in the sector. Steve Beedie, former soldier and derrickman, compares the recalcitrance of offshore workers to people in the army: “They are natural born leaders. It is the hardest thing for a soldier to ask for help and it is the same culture offshore”. 

The mental health challenges in the offshore industry are a systematic problem, rooted in the very way offshore jobs are structured. The majority of offshore workers are hired on a contractual basis. Market fluctuations and boom and bust cycles have bred a punishing mindset for many workers, where having and being at work takes precedence over wellbeing. 

Starting the Conversation

For change to happen, the conversation and initiative need to start from the top. A few companies and organisations have already taken steps to lift the taboo around mental health. 

BP, an operator in the North Sea that employs around 1,100 people, developed a health programme in 2017 for its workers. One of the goals of the programme was to teach supervisors and team leads how to identify when a worker may be struggling with a psychological problem. 

In an industry that operates with stone-cold and mechanical efficiency, roles like “wellbeing coaches” may seem out of place. However, bringing professionals on board will be crucial for greasing the gears of better mental health for offshore workers. “This sort of sustainability and behavioural change can’t happen through assessments performed remotely on a computer. It can only come about with trained wellbeing coaches working on a one-to-one basis,” says Francis Riley, an occupational health manager with Centrica Storage. 

The industry is also seeing the emergence of support groups for the mental health of offshore professionals. Offshore Titans is one such association. Founded in 2017, the non-profit organisation provides free courses on a wide variety of topics, from stress and anger management to meditation. 

Mental health is important to an employee’s wellbeing. More so for offshore workers, who have to stay physically and mentally fit to meet the rigorous and often dangerous demands of the job. Support for psychological wellness is far behind efforts to ensure physical safety. But progress is on the horizon, with a few companies already having taken the first step of opening talk around mental health. However, for these initiatives to gain momentum and turn into industry-wide change, more companies need to foster an environment that encourages employees to speak openly. 

Kindly provided by: UTM Consultants