New study shows FIFO workers face mental distress

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More than a quarter of FIFO workers experience high to very high levels of psychological distress, compared with just 10.8% of the general population, new research has found.

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) found levels of psychological distress were more than two and half times greater among FIFO workers than the Australian population.

FIFO workers aged 25 – 34 and those on 2 weeks on/1 week off roster were most at risk.

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.

The research published this week in the Medical Journal of Australia 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 at 10 remote mining and construction sites in South Australia and Western Australia, with 1,124 workers completing the survey.

This is one of the few studies that 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.”

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