Perth FIFO Worker Alleges He Was Fired After Breaking Down Following Colleague's Suicide
A Perth fly-in-fly-out worker who broke down after his colleague's suicide, claims he was sacked by his employer because they didn’t want to deal with his deteriorating mental health.
Mental health issues have long plagued fly in, fly out (FIFO) workers in Australia’s mining industry, and Lachlan Samuel knows firsthand the stress arduous work schedules can cause.
Samuel said his commitment to FIFO life resulted in the breakdown of his relationship and eventual own diagnosis with depression.
“We parted ways … and then I got depressed and was forced to resign. After that, I went further into depression and tried to take my own life,” he told 10 daily.
A 2018 survey published in the Medical Journal of Australia revealed more than 20 per cent of FIFO workers rated their own mental health as poor. This is higher than the general population, where 15 per cent felt the same way.
The research indicated that 30 per cent of the 1100 FIFO workers surveyed were suffering high or very high levels of psychological distress.
After years of working towards recovery, Samuel said he felt well enough to go back to work, but soon after one of his colleagues took their life.
He said his colleague's suicide took such a toll on him that he broke down at work and he claims his employer fired him instead of working to improve his mental health.
READ MORE: How To Talk About Mental Health
“I eventually broke down and was ‘evacuated’ from site," he alleged.
"It struck me that there is still such a toxic culture in the industry.”
It was at this point, in 2016, that Samuel decided to start a podcast, to “give a voice to those struggling in silence.”
“I'm doing a podcast called Open Up which has now surpassed the 100-episode mark and has led to providing mental health workshops for FIFO workers who are struggling like I was,” he said.
The podcast quickly gained traction and Samuel was contacted by a number of mining companies. These discussions lead to Samuel and Royal Navy veteran and suicide attempt survivor Jason Nelson organising Western Australia’s first free summit to target FIFO mental health.
Samuel believes the greatest barrier for mental health progression in the FIFO industry is stigma, the fear of speaking up, being seen as weak or being considered a risk by employers.
His belief is in line with a recent international study from Teladoc Health that revealed 82 percent of those with a diagnosed mental health condition did not confide in workplace management.
The study was conducted with 3894 employees across four major international markets including the US, Canada, Australia and the UK.
“While society is generally promoting the conversation about mental health, the data show that employees don’t want to and don’t know how to talk about it at work.
"Not surprisingly, stigma is the biggest obstacle in obtaining help for mental health problems,” Dr John Oldham, Professor of Psychiatry at Menninger Clinic said of the study.
“The belief is pervasive and persistent that raising your hand for help with problems like depression, bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues will only be career limiting.”
The WA FIFO mental health summit will teach how to release suppressed stress and how to understand, identify and handle mental health issues.
“This Summit is about making mental health mainstream and will help create the breakthroughs necessary to begin moving towards a mentally healthy FIFO culture, starting with those who influence change within the industry,” Samuel said.
Representatives from WA’s biggest mining companies will be attending the conference at the Quest Hotel in East Perth on October 10.