WA’s big mining companies are being urged to join a drive to stop suicide among fly-in, fly-out workers, who are more at risk of mental illness than the rest of the population.
FIFO Zero has been created by FIFO worker Blake Wood and personal development expert George Helou, who want to take a program that has been running successfully in Perth on to WA mine sites.
It comes after research highlighted the dangers faced by FIFO workers, who suffer higher levels of suicidal intent, psychological distress, burnout, isolation and substance abuse than the rest of the population.
Mr Wood’s experiences of mental illness during a nine-year FIFO career and the suicide of a colleague have driven him to take what helped him to others in a similar position.
“I got caught up in the culture of drinking on site every day,” he said.
“It just flattens you. I was really struggling. My relationship was really struggling.”
When Mr Wood’s relationship ended, he moved to WA to start a “dream job” with BHP.
“I felt like it was a fresh start,” he said.
“I loved it. I was living in hotels on my break because it was cheaper than renting. I did that for quite a while, living out of a bag, like a nomad, and staying at hotels all over WA. It was good initially, but a lot of the stuff I was struggling with before, I brought with me.”
The 36-year-old suffered from depression, chronic anxiety, suicidal thoughts and panic attacks that left him unable to go out.
Mr Wood is far from alone in his experiences. In December, the State Government released the results of a survey of more than 3000 WA FIFO workers and partners that recommended changes to rosters, accommodation and recreation.
FIFO workers were found to have higher levels of depression and anxiety and they had suicidal thoughts more often than the general population.
During a break in Perth seven years ago, Mr Wood did Mr Helou’s seven-step personal development course. He says it helped him understand why he felt the way he did and how to change it.
“I had no target to work towards. I’d basically become adrift,” he said. “I couldn’t understand why I was struggling. I thought hang on, I’m earning all this money but something is missing.”
Mr Helou said the FIFO life-style could dramatically improve when people were aware they were responsible for their wellbeing and learnt how to improve their circumstances.
“The adaptive nature of those who handle the FIFO environment better than others presents a real opportunity to address why others struggle with the loneliness and isolation,” he said.
The FIFO Zero campaign will be launched on June 15 at the Juwest Men In Black Ball, held by Momentum Forum Events at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in East Perth. Mr Wood will be the keynote speaker.
Source: The West Australian, 4 June 2019