Male miners’ mental health claims overblown: research

New research has shown there is no solid data to indicate males in the mining industry experience more mental health issues compared to males in other industries.

The research from Griffith’s Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP) said men in the resource sector are not at higher suicide risk.

The study is being presented today at Opening Doors: The 14th International Mental Health Conference in the Gold Coast and it compared the mental health and emotional wellbeing of men working in mining with men working in other industries.

Lead author of the research, AISRAP senior research fellow Dr Samara McPhedran said much of the speculation surrounding employees in the resources sector and their mental health is based on anecdotal information rather than concrete data.

“Our study in fact, found very little evidence of poor mental health or emotional wellbeing among miners,” McPhedran said.

“Mental health and emotional functioning among male resources sector employees were both comparable with men working in other industries.

“This doesn’t mean miners don’t face work-related stresses and difficulties; it just meant that those experiences don’t necessarily lead to mental illness or elevated suicide risk.”

McPhedran looked at data of 375 men across the nation from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey at the University of Melbourne. It focused mainly on suicide risk, not other issues like drug and alcohol use.

“There is a lot of speculation in the public domain about possible impacts of the resources sector on mental health. The language is often emotive and sensational, with phrases like suicide is epidemic,” McPhedran told Australian Mining.

But there is no data to back this.

She did not deny the work stresses miners experience.

But she said the prevalence and magnitude of suicide risk among male miners is overblown and politicised, particularly in the media.

“We don’t engage in making decisions based on speculation or political views of one persuasion or the other.”

McPhedran said the data showed policies, programs and services under consideration in the mining industry should target issues like work-family balance instead of being based on assumptions of pervasive, clinically significant mental health issues.

She acknowledged her sample size was quite small and hopes to look at a larger size in the future, along with interviews with miners.

Research by Lifeline WA and Edith Cowan University psychologists found a number of problems impacting the mental health of FIFO workers.

The research found FIFO workers experienced stress, anxiety, divorce, drug and alcohol use and a sense of helplessness.

The research was done through an anonymous online survey of 924 fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out workers.

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