Australian Mining Industry and Mental Health

minersMental health has always been a taboo subject, especially so in the mining industry. But for many men in the industry, it is an every day part of their lives. Statistically, men are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health issues, and this number increases significantly for men working and living in rural and regional areas.

One in three rural and regional workers take at least one day off work every few months because they are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, according to recent research commissioned by Medibank Health Solutions. Just looking at these numbers alone, miners are bound to be at risk due to the very nature of their work, which ticks all the boxes – predominately male; long working hours; and often in rural or regional areas.

The most prevalent mental health conditions are depression, substance abuse, and work related stress. It is estimated that each employee with untreated depression will cost their organisation $9660 per year. Substance abuse has also been previously flagged as a serious issue in the industry, particularly for fly in fly out miners who spend weeks away from their home and families at a time. Yet no one really talks about the issue of mental health, and this problem has a major impact on site.

According to the Medibank study, nearly 80% believed there is no real support for those with mental health issues in regional and rural Australia. Medibank group general manager Matthew Cullen said there is not enough being done to address it. “While a lot of time and money is invested in providing a safe physical work environment, the effect that workplace pressures have on an employee’s mental health is being overlooked at a huge cost to employers.” And mental health has a direct impact on workplace safety. The Australasian Centre for Rural and Remote Mental health (ACRRMH) agrees that the impact is large. It recently held a forum on miner’s mental health and suicide prevention.

The Exploration 2 forum looked at workers and the need for special mental health ‘first aid’ programs. “Mental health should be a big player on the OH&S stage in the mining and resources sector but right now its name doesn’t even appear on the program,” ACRRHM chief executive Jennifer Bowers said. “In the blokey world of mining and resources, too often mental health is stigmatised and not seen as ‘safe’, one can’t help but wonder if mental health has even emerged as something these companies think about.” “The fear of colleagues finding out is a big concern for employees as there is still this negative image associated with mental health issues and people think that admitting to suffering from depression or anxiety may harm their chances of career progression,” Cullen added

“One of the biggest issues identified [in the recent report] for workers seeking assistance are concerns about confidentiality, with the large majority of people preferring access to an external counselling service. Speaking to beyondblue, they previously told Australian Mining that “while there has been some work done with mining companies about the issues that arise from depression, there is no thorough research on the condition in the industry that is available at the moment”.

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