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New Drug and Alcohol Helpline for FIFO Workers Launched

A new helpline for fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers struggling with drug and alcohol problems was launched on Sunday, 26 July 2015.

The Working Away Alcohol and Drug Support Line, developed by the Mental Health Commission, is a confidential helpline which offers free counselling and support service referrals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The drug and alcohol support line can also provide services to the family members of FIFO workers and other loved ones. The service is the first of its kind in Australia.

The introduction of the helpline is one of the outcomes of the recent WA Parliamentary Inquiry into the mental health of FIFO workers. The Parliamentary Inquiry was partly triggered as a result of media coverage highlighting a number of suicides amongst FIFO workers in recent years.

The terms of reference for the Inquiry included investigating the contributing factors leading to mental illness and suicide amongst FIFO workers and the current legislation, regulations, policies and practices for managing mental health at mine sites and FIFO camps.

In one of its two written submissions to the Inquiry, the Mental Health Commission warned that some groups of FIFO workers relied heavily on alcohol and drugs to cope with loneliness and family stress. A submission from the Australian Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health stated that its research indicated that FIFO workers were up to 70% more likely to suffer from mental health problems than the general population.

The Inquiry handed down its findings in June 2015 and revealed that 240,000 West Australians (9.3% of the population) were directly impacted by FIFO work. FIFO Inquiry Chairman Dr Graham Jacobs MLA said that the high risk demographic profile and higher incidence of mental distress among the FIFO group led to a decision to recommend the development of a Code of Practice to provide guidance on the best practice to promote improved mental and emotional health and wellbeing amongst the workforce.

Mental Health Minister Helen Morton told The Sunday Times that the new telephone counselling support service is an important step toward reducing the impact working away can have on someone’s alcohol and drug use due to social isolation, family and relationship stress and a lack of venues for socialising without alcohol.

WA Association for Mental Health president Alison Xamon has observed that for many families, FIFO work was their first chance to get out of financial distress, and that many workers have previously been reluctant to seek on-site help for fear that it could put their job at risk. The introduction of the new confidential helpline aims to provide a solution to this and eradicate the stigma attached to the disclosure of mental health issues in the FIFO workplace.

The Working Away Alcohol and Drug Support Line is available on 1800 721 997 or workingaway@mhc.wa.gov.au.

Photo credit – pixabay.com

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