Hitting back against mental illness in FIFO workers

The Hitch-Box

A 2015 survey conducted on FIFO workers by Western Australia’s Edith Cowan University found that more than one third of survey participants had experienced depression, anxiety or stress symptoms – more than double that of the rest of the population.

This prompted Ian Mclean, who works in the FIFO industry, to develop a kit to help workers manage their health and wellbeing when on site.

Dubbed the Hitch-Box, the kit contains toiletries for a one-week stint as well as mental health tools to help workers manage their lifestyle while working away from home for long periods of time.

The idea for Hitch-Box stemmed from Mclean’s own experiences having difficulties as a FIFO worker.

“I sort of felt trapped in the FIFO industry,” Mclean told Australian Mining.

“It got to a really bad stage where I was almost at the point of quitting my job before I actually reached out for help saw a psychologist and was taught how to properly manage the FIFO lifestyle.”

The Hitch-Box features a range of toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body lotion and a shaver set, as well as an on and off shift planner, a habit tracker – for workers to keep track of habits and a stress relief wallet card with six tips to reduce anxiety in the workplace.

“We’re also in the process of designing a relationship checklist where people can tick off little things that they’ve been doing during their swing to maintain their relationship with whoever it may be. Whether it is their wife, their family, or their children,” Mclean said.

One of the key reasons for designing a toiletries box was so it would create extra luggage space for FIFO workers, who often have a 10kg minimum when travelling to site.

It was also designed as a means to bring mental health ‘literature’ into the worker’s private setting, particularly if they feel uncomfortable seeking it out for themselves.

“At the moment all the mental health literature on site is usually at the company’s reception or at some location were people don’t want to be seen picking it up,” Mclean said.

“They don’t want people to think ‘Oh he’s gone to grab a brochure for suicide, he’s having a had time’ or they don’t want to be ridiculed, or seen as a liability.

“So the box actually provides a vessel to get the mental health information in their personal space where they can read it in private and act on it if they need to.”

Mclean also partnered with charity organisation Livin for the development of Hitch-Box.

The charity was established by Casey Lyons and Sam Webb after Lyons’ best friend Dwayne took his own life after struggling with mental illnesses.

“Dwayne suffered from depression and bipolar for a number of years,” co-founder, Casey Lyons said. “And in my opinion the stigma is what kept him quiet.

“He had great support networks around him, he had a beautiful family and great friends but the stigma sort of kept him quiet. It made him feel ashamed and stopped him from asking for that help that could have ultimately saved his life.”

With the slogan, ‘It ain’t weak to speak’, Livin aims to remove the stigma linked to mental illness and encourage others to speak up if they are having any issues.

“There are plenty of great service providers in this country but people just do not feel comfortable putting their hand up and asking for help,” Lyons said.

“We’ve [may] outcast people when they put their hand up and ask for help relating to a mental health problem and this might be because when we can’t actually see the problem we don’t believe it exists.”

The charity brings the message of speaking up to schools and the wider community through education workshops, social media, merchandise and community based events.

“It’s all about stigma reduction,” Lyons added. “Just making people feel comfortable and empowering them to get help.”

Lyons also highlighted the importance of raising awareness of speaking up as it could be the beginning of someone’s journey to seeking help.

“There are so many warning signs out there and if we don’t have that empathy or that understanding we all too often – in this fast paced world that we live life at today – will miss these signs,” Lyons said.

“Raising that awareness just lets people know that they’re not alone and that there is help out there. It comes back to education – it creates that understanding and with that understanding comes acceptance.”

The culture of the mining industry

Mclean said that in his experience in the mining industry, he did not reach out for help because of fear of being ridiculed or seen as “the weak link”. He mentioned that because it can be a tough industry, there is a perceived attitude that as a worker you have to be tough as well.

“People have the attitude of ‘I need to be tough to get through this job’ or I don’t want to be the person that has to ask for help,” he said.

And so Mclean resonated with the Livin organisation and its message because despite those fears, there are a lot of people also willing to help.

Mclean said one of the hardest parts was admitting he had a problem, but once he did, he received the help and support he needed.

“As soon as I admitted it and reached out to someone at work and said ‘hey I’m not really feeling good with the work-life balance at the moment, I need time off to recoup my thoughts and manage my own mental health’, everyone was willing to help.

“It was just all inside my own head [the idea that] I can’t reach out for help because I’ll be seen as a weak link, he said. “That was all just a concoction of my own imagination.”

The next step 

So far, Hitch-Box has received a strong response from lower management and Mclean said the next stage was to get it onto mine sites as a preventative maintenance method against mental health illness in the industry.

“Hopefully in the coming months we’ll have someone take it on board and we’ll get it into some camps and see some results,” he said.

As for Livin, Lyons said it was experiencing a period of growth, with plans to establish more teams nationwide to spread the message of seeking help.

“Most times getting started or taking that first step is generally the hardest,” he said.

“You definitely not alone, there is help out there, [so] please don’t be ashamed to put your hand up and ask for help.”

For more information about Hitch-Box contact Ian.hitchbox@gmail.com. This article also appears in the June edition of Australian Mining.