The mental health of fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers has been in the spotlight in recent years. It’s a job that not everyone can do and those that do are at risk of suffering poor mental health compared to many other industries. Poor mental health is prevalent amongst FIFO workers, with severe stress levels contributing to high suicide rates and psychological distress.
The industry has recognised that the unique worklife of a FIFO worker can result in poorer mental health. Many organizations now train managers in mental health awareness so they know what to do when their workers come to them with mental health concerns. However, FIFO workers aren’t always on site. This makes it important for family and friends of FIFO workers to know the signs and encourage them to seek help when it’s needed.
Being away from family and friends regularly can lead to feelings of isolation and missing out. Important milestones like birthdays and Christmases are particularly difficult times when the day isn’t spent with loved ones.
A recent report produced by the WA Mental Health Commission in 2018, found psychological distress (including feelings of anxiety and depression) were significantly higher amongst surveyed FIFO workers than the benchmark group. This benchmark group was made up of FIFO workers that were older, more experienced and in managerial or administrative roles.
High and very high levels of psychological distress were reported by 33% of surveyed FIFO workers, compared to 17% of respondents amongst the benchmark group. Furthermore, FIFO workers were found to be more likely to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism than the benchmark group. This indicates a potential link between drug and alcohol consumption and poor mental health.
Some FIFO workers also find the on-site environment difficult to cope with. They have little control over their life while on site, with meals and accommodation being provided. There aren’t many opportunities for FIFO workers to change their living quarters, which can also take its toll on a person’s wellbeing and contribute to poor mental health.
While females are employed to work on-site, most sites are made up of a predominantly male workforce. The culture is often tough and doesn’t provide the opportunity for workers to open up about any problems they may be experiencing. This can result in workers feeling as if they don’t have anyone to talk to on-site, which can lead to higher levels of stress.
There are a few tell-tale signs to look for in any friends or family members that work in a FIFO job that may indicate poor mental health.
Many FIFO workers use alcohol and/or drugs as a way of coping with their depression and anxiety. The substances can also contribute to their poor mental health making it a vicious cycle.
A person who is usually talkative and outgoing but becomes introverted may be struggling with their mental health. Being away from friends regularly can make it difficult to maintain relationships, but if they don’t want to join in at events with friends and family, it can be a sign of depression. Some FIFO workers can become more withdrawn as it gets closer to returning to site.
A mental health struggle can become obvious when it’s accompanied with physical symptoms such as shaking, dizziness, diarrhea, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping and complaining of headaches or shortness of breath. These symptoms are typical of anxiety.
A person who becomes emotional or angry easily may be lashing out due to their stress levels, depression or anxiety.
Encourage a FIFO worker to seek help. Most workers have access to a free Employee Assistance Program where they can speak to a psychologist or counsellor. Some FIFO workers may not feel comfortable speaking to their manager about these things, so the option is there to address any issues with someone in HR instead.
If you know a FIFO worker that is struggling with their mental health, encourage them to take leave so they don’t need to return to site for a while. Another swing can worsen their condition if they haven’t had a chance to get help. You can also encourage them to take a holiday, as being in a new location engaging in enjoyable activities may help.
You should also remind any FIFO workers you know that there are options available. Unfortunately, many FIFO workers feel trapped in their job. They may have high levels of debt with a mortgage and personal loans. This can lead to workers feeling as though FIFO is the only way to earn the level of income they need to service any debts and/or mortgages. If this is something you have observed in a friend or family member working FIFO, it may be time to suggest that they see a financial counsellor for advice on taking a lower paid job that doesn’t require them to travel.
Furthermore, you could suggest a career counsellor to help explore what other options they have. Some FIFO workers may not realise that their skills are transferable to other occupations that won’t require travel and may be better suited. When a person has worked in an industry for a long time or doesn’t know any other kind of work, the idea of change can be daunting, so having the right support available is important.
To find out more about what we do to help FIFO workers, call 1800 258 487 or contact us online.