More than a quarter of FIFO workers are experiencing high to very high psychological distress according to new research

The new research, by Rural & Remote Mental Health in conjunction with Edith Cowan University and Orygen (The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health) showed 28% of such workers are experiencing these high levels of distress.

It 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 to 34 and those on a 2/1 roster most at risk.

Other key research findings included high levels of stress among workers associated with missing out on special events (such as family birthdays), daily work tasks, shift rosters and social isolation. 

Published 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 authors say.

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 says the stigma related to mental health remains 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,” says 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.”

Rural & Remote Mental Health cited the example of Byrnecut Australia, a specialised underground mining contractor, which introduced a mental health program before they became more widely available.

“We have seen a reduction of stigma associated with mental health issues but there is still more work to be done,” says Byrnecut SEQT Manager Peter Hallman.