Lifeline crisis staff teach mining sector workers how to use mental health tool kit

Lifeline crisis support staff are training resource sector workers in skills to assist co-workers experiencing mental health issues.  (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Jarrod Lucas)

Mining sector workers are being equipped with skills to spot colleagues who may be experiencing mental health issues and ways to navigate tough conversations under a new program.

The initiative, which is part of Resourceful Mind a peer support program developed by the Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) and Lifeline WA, aims to better equip people at work or on campsites to assist others who may be struggling.

CME's 2018-2019 diversity survey found 79.7 per cent of workers in the Western Australian resource sector were male.

Lifeline WA chief executive Lorna MacGregor says men are less likely to reach out for help when experiencing mental health issues.

"Of all the calls that we get here in WA only about 27 per cent of them come from men, but 75 per cent of suicides are male," she said.

"This is a sector that employs a lot of men, that is very interested in looking at innovative and different ways to support men's health, so it really was a perfect partnership."

A 2018 report by the WA Mental Health Commission found one third of fly-in, fly out (FIFO) workers reported experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress, including feelings of anxiety and depression. 

According to the report, poorer mental health and riskier alcohol and other drug use are risk factors for suicide. It also found both risk factors present in its FIFO sample.

Lifeline's Lorna MacGregor says the Resourceful Minds program is empowering resources workers. (ABC News: Briana Shepherd)

Upskilling go-to people

FIFO workers can be away from their families for weeks on end, with recent COVID-19 protocols and border closures exacerbating the situation.

CME's WA safety, health and wellbeing manager Elysha Millard said while away from their loved ones, resources sector workers were known for developing strong communities or "FIFO families" at work or campsites.

CME WA's Elysha Millard says the program seeks to equip workers with the skills and tools to better support their co-workers.  (Supplied: Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA)

"The program Resourceful Mind really acknowledges that within every onsite community there are these go-to people that are often sought out for a chat and to provide emotional support for someone going through a tough time or a stressful life event," Ms Millard said.

A six-month trial of the program is currently underway, with 142 people volunteering to become minders. Sixty-two minders have already been trained by Lifeline crisis support staff.

Other pilot partners include Mineral Resources, Roy Hill Holdings, Simcoa and Woodside Energy. 

Workers feel 'empowered'

Ms MacGregor says the training is made up of five online short segments which are delivered by some of Lifeline's most experienced staff.

"The feedback we've had is that the training is meaningful and accessible but more importantly what they're saying to us is that don't feel burdened but empowered," she said.

University researchers will assess the effectiveness and safety of the Resourceful Mind program. (Supplied: Chamber of Minerals and Energy)

Ms Millard said the training would help minders have difficult conversations about things like suicide.

"The training involves teaching minders how to look out for signs of stress amongst their co-workers, how to then listen and give support and de-stress and de-escalate the situation, and then how to link those individuals up with the appropriate support," she said.

Edith Cowan University is conducting research parallel to the trial to examine its effectiveness.

"Obviously the minders will be having potentially some challenging conversations and we want to make sure being part of the program doesn't expose them to any elevated psychological risks themselves."

Once a month minders will be able to meet online with fellow peer-support leaders, along with a Lifeline crisis supporter.

Ms MacGregor said during these sessions the minders would be encouraged to discuss what they had learned, their experiences, and how they look after their own mental health.

"One of things we have to ensure is that becoming a minder doesn't become its own psychological burden," Ms MacGregor said.


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