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Canadian study examines the reasons behind why why not people admit to mental health problems in the workplace

More than 1 in 4 (28%) FIFO workers are experiencing high to very high psychological distress according to newly published research by Rural & Remote Mental Health in conjunction with Edith Cowan University and Orygen (The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health).

The research found that the prevalence of high levels of psychological distress were more than two and half times greater among FIFO workers than the Australian population with workers aged 25 – 34 and those on a 2/1 roster most at risk.

Some of the other key research findings included high levels of stress among workers associated with missing out on special events (e.g. family birthdays), daily work tasks, shift rosters and social isolation.

Published today, 14th May, in the Medical Journal of Australia, the research is one of the most comprehensive studies undertaken into the prevalence and contributing factors of psychological distress among FIFO workers. The research was undertaken by Rural and Remote Mental Health through an anonymous Wellbeing and Lifestyle Survey of 1,124 workers in 10 remote mining and construction sites in South Australia and Western Australia.

The research is also one of the few studies that has surveyed workers on-site in underground mines,
open cut mines and construction sites. Rural & Remote Mental Health CEO Dr Jennifer Bowers said the stigma related to mental health remained a major issue for mining workers. “Our research found that workers who felt there was stigma attached to mental health problems on site were the workers at greatest risk of high psychological distress,” said Dr Bowers.

“We also found that work expectations, relationship and financial pressures were all key contributing factors to high levels of psychological distress. This FIFO mental health challenge requires prevention programs along with early interventions and an industry-wide response, but on the positive side we’re starting to see the major mining contractors and companies renewing their efforts in delivering comprehensive mental health and suicide prevention programs and support for workers.

“Many of the issues are now well understood but it’s the targeted investment that now needs to follow from mining and resource companies to tackle the growing and often complex mental health challenges facing workers.

“Cultural change is required within the mining sector and a commitment from management to mental health education, identification of champions and peer group support being vital to reducing the stigma associated with mental health.”

In response, Rural & Remote Mental Health is starting to see greater demand for its Resource Minds program which is specifically designed to help tackle the stigma of mental health, anxiety, depression, suicide prevention, relationships and financial stress.

“Byrnecut Australia can confidently say we introduced a mental health program before it became commonplace and were pleased that we contributed to this valuable research” said Byrnecut’s SEQT Manager Peter Hallman.

“With assistance from RRMH, we will continue to educate our workforce as we have seen a reduction of stigma associated with mental health issues but there is still more work to be done. We intend continuing our relationship with RRMH and have plans to expand the program to new and existing Byrnecut sites” he said.

The evidenced-based program is delivered through leadership training within mining and resource companies followed by Toolbox Talks which include protective, self-help strategies and pathways to support for all on-site workers. The ongoing evaluation of the program will be used by Rural & Remote Mental Health to further develop and refine Resource Minds.

Operating for more than a decade, Rural & Remote Mental Health specialises in raising awareness and supporting the mental health of some of Australia’s most isolated people, particularly within the mining, agriculture and Indigenous communities.

For more information on Rural & Remote Mental Health, visit http://www.rrmh.com.au

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