Mental health stigma stopping FIFO workers speaking up

The unhealthy stigma attached to mental health problems is stopping miners from seeking help.

Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher told the Daily Mercury the issue was a recurring one during their research for the FIFO inquiry.

"On our regional tour basically everywhere we went there was at least one worker that was in the crowd that spoke pretty strongly on the fact they believe if they were to see one of these psychologists or a mental health professional they would be targeted and potentially sacked," Butcher said.

He went on to say contractors were the most at risk group, and generally feared for their jobs.

"They were concerned if they went for some help they would be told there would be no work for them from next week," he said

According to mental health wellness company Assure Program’s senior OD consultant Paul Martin “a central problem I have seen in the FIFO space is wrapped up in some of the central tenets of what it means to be a man in Australia”.    

“This includes 'doing it on your own', taking risks and pretending all is well even when someone's world is falling apart,” he explained to Australian Mining.

“It is one of the most important factors that can lead to mental health issues is social isolation and not having quality conversations about how people are really feeling, and one of the main symptoms of mental health issues is the very same thing.   FIFO life whilst for some is a wonderful lifestyle, for others is a perfect storm where so many problems come together at the same time.  This is too frequently experienced in silence.”   

He spoke on his own experience holding counselling programs on site.

“Gradually miners walk through the door feeling resentful at being forced to be somewhere they don't want to be.  It is at the end of a long swing, they are exhausted and all they want to do is leave site and go home.

“They are respectful although a few express their fatigue and disinterest through humour, which I understand and go along with.”

The inquiry itself is forecast to aid in the change of attitudes on sites.

FIFO inquiry chairman Dr. Graham Jacobs MLA said the high risk demographic and higher incidence of mental distress among the FIFO group led to the decision to recommend development of a code of practice which can provide guidance on best practice to promote improved mental and emotional health in workforces.

The report rejected suitability arguments that some workers are more suited to FIFO than others, and suggested the industry should focus on tailoring FIFO roles to accommodate the mental health needs of workers, rather than trying to screen for workers deemed able to withstand the challenges of a FIFO role.

Jacobs added that companies had a responsibility to provide a better level of counselling support than a phone based Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

“Companies have a lot of lifestyle and recreation officers or co-ordinators, but we think you need more than that.

“Fitness is important and diet is important, but emotional health and well-being is also important, so we think that’s where we will go with that.”

“We believe telephone and online support is not actually fine, so we are looking at sites that can supply a template for providing a counsellor or some sort of psycho-social support on site, whether that be a chaplain/counsellor or some other kind.

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