FIFO Mental Health Issues: Spotting the Signs & Getting Support

Maintaining regular contact with a trusted GP can be an important life-line for tens of thousands of Australian FIFO workers who live with the ongoing stress and upheaval of spending long periods away from home.

If you, or someone you know is a FIFO worker, it’s important to understand the signs of fatigue, anxiety and depression. Recognising these early warning signs and seeking help from a GP when they happen, is the best way to maintain physical and mental wellbeing.

Australia’s FIFO work arrangements are largely fuelled by the Australian mining industry, which requires workers to spend a number of days ‘on the job’ before returning home for a break.

FIFO is an appealing option for tens of thousands of Australian workers who appreciate the high pay packets associated with working in and commuting to remote locations. In fact, in West Australia alone, the FIFO workforce is now estimated to include as many as 63,000 workers.

Yet, the financial rewards of FIFO work can sometimes come at a cost. A recent Lifeline study[3] into the wellbeing of FIFO workers has found stress, anxiety, divorce, drug and alcohol use and a sense of helplessness are prevalent among the FIFO workforce.

The study also found that workers who spend long periods away from home (especially those with young children), often become increasingly stressed during the rotation, with their stress peaking in the days before they leave for work again.

One of the problems with FIFO work is that there isn’t always convenient access to adequate mental or physical health facilities when on site. This leads to many workers choosing not to follow up on symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.

Of course, there are a number of things that FIFO workers can do to help limit the potentially damaging effects of this sort of work – and the first step begins with recognising the signs of fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Fatigue

In Australia, fatigue results in around 1.5 million GP visits every year[i]. Although it’s often thought of as ‘tiredness’, fatigue is much more serious. Its common symptoms include; an ongoing headache, sleepiness, dizziness, irritability, poor concentration and impaired hand-eye coordination.

Anxiety

While it’s normal to feel a little stressed from time to time, the feeling usually subsides. People who experience anxiety often find that it is hard to control their anxious feelings and the feeling of stress can go on for a long time. Classic symptoms of anxiety include; a racing heart, snowballing worries, tightening of the chest, and obsessive thinking or compulsive behaviour[1].

Depression

People who are experiencing depression feel sad, low or moody for long stretches of time. Depression can last for weeks, months or even years. Key symptoms of anxiety include losing interest in work, family or social activities that they usually enjoy, feeling irritable, having difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual[2].

If you recognise the symptoms of fatigue, anxiety or depression in either yourself or someone you love, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a GP. Checking in with a trusted GP about mental health is especially important for FIFO workers. Not only does it provide an opportunity to discuss difficult situations, it also opens up avenues of access to other health professionals such as counsellors, psychologists and social workers.

Next steps

Together, GPs and allied health workers can help FIFO workers tackle most of the problems associated with FIFO work. HealthEngine can help you select and book a convenient appointment with either your regular GP or one nearby.

References

[1] https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety/signs-and-symptoms

[2] https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression

[i] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fatigue

[3] Workplacehealth.org.au – Lifeline’s FIFO DIDO Mental Health Research Report (PDF)

 

A: Use HealthEngine to find and book your next Counsellor appointment. Click on the following locations to find a Counsellor clinic in your state or territory.

 

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If in doubt, HealthEngine recommends consulting with a registered health practitioner.