NEW research has confirmed mental health problems and heavy drinking are ‘prevalent’ among fly-in, fly-out workers. The study by the Mental Health Commission – based on evidence from care providers in the Pilbara, Goldfields and Mid-West – warned some FIFO workers relied on alcohol and drugs to cope with loneliness and family stress. “The disruption to family time as a result of increased alcohol consumption when the worker returns home was also reported,” Mental Health Commissioner Tim Marney said.
“Some workers will binge for several days at a time when they are home, which may lead them to disappear for several days at a time. “A mental health service provider reported that families often appear to be under more stress when the worker is home as family dynamics are altered during this time.” The findings were revealed in a submission by Mr Marney to a parliamentary inquiry into the mental health impacts of FIFO work arrangements. The inquiry began after the families of workers who committed suicide voiced their concerns to The Sunday Times. “It was also reported … that many FIFO workers drink during their ‘off-shift’ recreational time,” Mr Marney said. “It was said to be common for FIFO workers to drink heavily on recreational trips to various locations in the Pilbara, such as national parks, resulting in community complaints relating to excessive alcohol consumption and littering.”In its submission, Lifeline WA said lobby groups comparing the overall suicide rate in WA to the estimated rate among FIFO workers were “not useful”. Chief executive Fiona Kalaf said WA’s overall suicide rate was “influenced heavily” by Aboriginal suicide, which if removed would make the rate “materially lower”. “The FIFO worker group is a relatively small population size and, therefore, statistically problematic (too),” she said. WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief officer John Nicolaou said he was “disappointment” in the committee’s focus on FIFO workers.
He did not believe the prevalence of mental health problems among FIFO workers was greater than the general community. Lifeline: 13 11 14 or crisischat.lifelinewa.org.au
This article first appeared Perth Now, 22 February 2015.