Mental Illness Prevalence in FIFO Workers and How It Affects the Whole Family

Mental Health

Dr. Happy

A somewhat sad reality is that mental illness will affect almost every one of us at some point in our lives. Approximately 1 in 4 or 5 will experience a diagnosis of depression or anxiety; and if we add to that psychological disorders or challenges such as substance abuse (e.g. problem drinking), other addiction problems such as gambling, and relationship dysfunction then those numbers probably increase to 1 in 3 or even 1 in 2.

If one then considers all the people who love, live with, care for and/or work with those suffering mental ill-health it’s not unreasonable, then, to assume that we will all be impacted, directly or indirectly, by mental illness.

In some groups, however, the prevalence of mental ill-health is even higher.

August is Tradies’ National Health Month and I note this because several reports have found that the prevalence of mental illness among Tradies is 6-7% higher than in the general population. Even more concerning are the findings that indicate that suicide rates are twice as high in this group. Add to this extremely worrying high rates of drug and alcohol use, a culture dominated by the “tough male” stereotype (a man, that is, who doesn't complain or seek help) and we’re looking at a dangerous combination of potentially deadly factors.

A similar group of (once again, mostly male) workers with markedly higher rates of mental ill-health are “Fly-In-Fly-Out” (FIFO) workers. These (predominately) miners and construction workers experience all of the aforementioned issues plus social isolation, time away from family and friends that can strain relationships, and the changing hours of shift work that’s also known to impact negatively on sleep, health and wellbeing.

In recent years there have been significant improvements in terms of the quality of services and programs offered to Tradies and FIFO workers, as well as the ways in which such services are delivered. At the same time, however, there’s still much room for improvement.

Two areas that still require much work are: 

  1. offerings designed for the families of these workers; families who’re also very much affected by the distress and at times dysfunctional behaviour of their loved ones and
  2. the stigma associated with seeking help for mental illness. Unfortunately, for every person who could benefit from psychological assistance only about 1 in 4 actually seeks help.

This is even lower among men and given this article is focusing mostly on male dominated workers, it’s likely that help seeking behaviour is low which means that between 70-80% are suffering excessively and in silence.

We can all help with this by speaking out about mental ill-health. We can help by encouraging others to speak out and seek help. If someone you know is experiencing high levels of distress or displaying concerning behaviours (such as excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol) then say something. It might be difficult sometimes to raise the sensitive topics of health and wellbeing, but it’s even more difficult to see someone lose their job, their family, their health or even their lives.

You don’t need to be a psychologist or a doctor; you just need to be a caring and compassionate friend or partner. And you don’t need to know everything or say everything perfectly. Just be yourself; and if you want or need some guidance then the RUOK? Website has some fantastic resources that will certainly assist (

And finally, if you’re the husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, mate or child of someone who’s struggling don’t forget to take care of yourself first. You can’t help others if you’re sick and tired and miserable. So as they say in the airplane take-off safety instructions, put on your own mask first, and then help others in need.

Dr Happy

Please note: Dr Happy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

Category:Mental Health

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