The recent deaths of nine Western Australian fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers who took their own lives has put the issue of living conditions and depression in the mining industry back in the spotlight, reports mining.com.
According to The Australian, suicide is the single largest killer of people aged 15 to 44 years old, while the average age of a FIFO worker is 38.
Experts point to a male-dominated culture, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as a low emotional capacity to work through problems as key reasons why these workers are at risk.
Add to this the social dynamics of life in a mining camp, where hundreds of workers usually live side-by-side in identical quarters and work 12-hour shifts away from family and friends for weeks at a time, and you begin to understand how mental health problems can develop.
A study published in June by University of South Australia’s researcher Wes McTernan found that mining workers and their partners are more prone to depression.
In a survey of 150 people over a 12-month period, the academic also found workers, as well as their partners, were likely to be more prone to depression.
The initial findings of the research, by the University of South Australia, also found conflict between working and home lives was associated with sleep problems, headaches, and an increase in anxiety.
But the Chamber of Minerals and Energy was quick to say the findings were flawed.
“Current mental health problems associated with fly-in fly-out workers in Western Australia compared to other employment types were statistically significantly lower,” a spokesman said in an interview with the ABC.
Mental Health Commissioner Tim Marney told a public hearing on Wednesday that the apparent increase in FIFO suicides over the past 12 months was tragically not surprising.
“You visit any mine site, the emphasis on physical health is extreme (…) “If they put that sort of effort into awareness and support for mental health we’d be far better off,” he was quoted as saying by The Australian.
He added a senior mental health clinician was already looking into the recent deaths of the FIFO workers.