Caring for Remote Workers

Fly-in Fly-Out (FIFO), Drive-in Drive Out (DIDO), remote and rural workers now have better access to mental health support services, thanks to a range of new telepsychiatry services.

Mental Health Issues More Prevalent for FIFO Workers – according to research conducted by Remote and Rural Mental Health. 28 percent of FIFO workers experience high to very high psychological distress. In fact, the research found FIFO workers were 2.5 times more likely to experience psychological distress than the average Australian population. The group most at risk were aged 25-35 years-old and those working a roster of two weeks on, one week off.

The survey revealed the lifestyle associated with FIFO and DIDO work, including sleeping in motels, compressed rosters and isolation from family and friends contributed to poor mental health outcomes caused by strains on personal relationships, poor sleep and risky behaviour, such as excessive drinking.

More than 1000 employees were surveyed (93 percent were men) across 10 mining sites in South Australia and Western Australia.

CEO of Remote and Rural Mental Health, Dr Jennifer Bowers, said the research revealed workers were concerned about raising mental health problems due to stigma.

“Our research found that workers who felt there was stigma attached to mental health problems on site were the workers at greatest risk of high psychological distress,” said Dr Bowers.

The Challenges of Delivering Mental Health Support Services in Remote Areas – providing face-to-face mental health care services for workers in remote locations is a challenge. First, there are not many mental health practitioners who want to live and practice in remote communities. So, it becomes a choice of either transporting psychologists in or workers out, which can be logistically difficult and costly.

The second issue is maintaining confidentiality for employees who don’t want their deeply personal mental health issues made known in the workplace.

So, the traditional model psychiatrists and patients meeting in person is hard to deliver.

Technology Opens a New Door – Thanks to technology like video-conferencing, psychologists and psychiatrists have more ways to provide support FIFO, DIDO, remote and rural workers.

Services such as Call to Mind and Conduit Health provide what they call telepsychiatry services to anyone in Australia. Telepsychiatry is a consultation between a patient and a psychiatrist conducted via video-conference. To access the service, patients need a referral from the GP. The service is available to both workers and their family members. Calls can be made in private, which helps employees to keep their mental health concerns confidential.

According to the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, a number of studies have shown telepsychiatry can be just as effective as face-to-face consultations.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All – But technology has its limitations. Delivering services via video conference requires a reliable internet connection, which doesn’t always happen in the bush. And according to psychologist, Dr Louise Roufeil, some psychologists and patients can find technology a barrier to building a trusting relationship, especially if there are pauses in conversation caused by poor connection.

Dr Roufeil concludes there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to delivering mental health care services in the bush. But FIFO, DIDO, remote and rural workers don’t have to suffer in silence with mental health problems. Services like telepsychiatry can provide a valuable lifeline for workers in psychological distress.

For more information about online mental health services for FIFO and Remote Workers:

New Research Highlights FIFO Workers’ Mental Health Distress – http://www.rrmh.com.au/new-research-highlights-fifo-workers-mental-health-distress/

Psychological distress in remote mining and construction workers in Australia – https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2018/208/9/psychological-distress-remote-mining-and-construction-workers-australia

Getting mental health services to the bush – https://www.psychology.org.au/for-members/publications/inpsych/2011/oct/Getting-mental-health-services-to-the-bush-The-in

The innovative delivery of best practice psychological services – https://www.ranzcp.org/Publications/Telehealth-in-psychiatry

If you are experiencing mental health issues we encourage you to ring the Beyondblue Support Services on 1300 22 4636.

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