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Move to tackle mining's mental health myths

CLAIMS that mine workers suffer from elevated risk of mental illness or suicide have been quashed in a new study.

Alison Middleton
Move to tackle mining's mental health myths

Experts from Griffith’s Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP) agreed there was little evidence of poor mental health among miners.

Their study, which aimed to tackle myths about mental health among miners, was presented yesterday at Opening Doors: The 14th International Mental Health Conference, at Surfers Paradise in Queensland.

It revealed the mental health and emotional wellbeing of men working in mining was comparable with men working in other roles.

The study’s lead author, AISRAP senior research fellow Dr Samara McPhedran, said much of the speculation about resources sector employment and mental health was based on anecdotal information rather than solid data.

“It has been suggested that resources sector employees may experience higher rates of mental illness than workers in other industries, and that this in turn may place miners at an elevated risk of suicide,” she added.

“Our study in fact, found very little evidence of poor mental health or emotional wellbeing among miners.

“Mental health and emotional functioning among male resources sector employees were both comparable with men working in other industries.

“This doesn’t mean miners don’t face work-related stresses and difficulties – it just means that those experiences don’t necessarily lead to mental illness or elevated suicide risk.

“The results imply that any policies, programs, and services being considered in the resources sector context may need to be carefully targeted to issues like work-family balance, rather than being based on assumptions of widespread, clinically significant mental health problems.”

However, the Australasian Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health warned of the “significant human and financial cost” of not putting mental health on the work health and safety landscape.

CEO Dr Jennifer Bowers said it was common knowledge that one in five Australians would experience a mental health problem or illness in any one year.

“I very much welcome Dr Samara McPhedran’s contribution to what is a lamentably thin volume of research regarding mental health in the mining industry,” she added.

“However, it would be a pity if decision-makers in the industry misread this research and used it as an excuse not to address mental health in their workplaces.

“We also know that someone with a mental health problem or illness is more than 40% more likely to have an accident at work.

“I suggest that having an accident on a mining or remote construction site is likely to have more serious ramifications – human and financial - than an accident in an office.”

Dr Bowers said the centre’s own research, conducted on mine sites across WA, repeatedly showed that 99% of mining, resource and remote construction employees agreed mental health was a significant issue in their sector and needed to be addressed.

A further 98% responded that understanding mental health and emotional wellbeing helped them to be aware of and deal with their own issues.

“The centre’s research goes on to show that increased awareness and understanding of mental health in a workforce assists with de-stigmatisation and can encourage a healthier lifestyle, like doing more exercise and a enjoying a better diet, things we know that can improve mental health,” Bowers added.

“Whether miners are at a greater risk of mental illness and suicide or not, the prevalence of mental illness in Australia generally means that it is an issue in the resources industry, as in other industries, and it needs to be addressed.”

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