WA, Mitsubishi invest in mental health recovery

The Western Australian Government has launched the Mentally Healthy Workplaces Audit for mining workplaces, while Mitsubishi is supporting a program to improve mental health services in Queensland.

The audit is designed to allow employers to easily meet their legal requirements for work health and safety. These requirements were previously outlined in a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) worker code of practice.

Using a risk management approach, the audit tool highlights strengths and improvement areas to support the mental health of workers in the mining industry.

In 2018, the Western Australian Mental Health Commission completed a study on the impacts of travels on FIFO workers’ mental health and wellbeing.

Elevated feelings of anxiety and depression were common issues faced by FIFO workers, according to the study.

The new audit shows one way the WA government is attempting to quell the mental strain of its FIFO workforce.

With restrictions now widely eased across the country, the International SOS Return to Work survey found that 73 per cent of the companies’ main concern was the impact that a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic might have on operations.

Released in June, the study found the top two priorities that businesses were introducing include updating business continuity plans (60 per cent) and on-the-ground support for colleagues (59 per cent).

Mental health support from businesses was considered a priority by 44 per cent of organisations.

According to International SOS regional medical director Mark Parrish, it is surprising to see that more than one fifth of the 1000 respondents (21 per cent) did not have a pandemic plan and process organised.

“We are surprised that, while the great majority of companies are fearing a second wave of COVID-19, there are many who still don’t have a pandemic plan in place,” he said.

“The issue of mental health potentially being a major threat to business resilience has been brought to the forefront by the COVID-19 pandemic. Home working, isolation and the stress of the unknown is taking its toll on many of the workforce. It will be important to address this going forward, extending confidential support to employees whenever and wherever they need it the most.”

Mitsubishi Development also provided $500,000 in funding for a pilot program to improve mental health services in the Bowen Basin, Queensland, which will aim to deliver improvements to the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management of COVID-19.

The program will operate in Wesley Medical Research’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Centre.

According to Wesley Medical Research general manager Claudia Giurgiuman, suicide deaths in Australia are likely to outweigh the number of COVID-19 infection deaths.

“At this stage, the suicide rate is likely to overshadow the number of deaths in Australia directly attributable to COVID-19 infection, and Australia’s mental health system must urgently be equipped to respond to the expected dramatic increase in demand for services,” she said.

“When Mitsubishi Development approached us with their concerns, we designed a program that will have immediate impact in the Bowen Basin community by enabling access to a new evidence-based model of care to improve mental health outcomes.”

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the program and Mitsubishi Development’s funding demonstrated the mining industry’s consideration for mental health.

“During the COVID-19 outbreak our sector not only adhered to the advice of the state’s Chief Health Officer but implemented more safety measures to protect the men and women working in the resources sector, their colleagues, their families and their communities,” he said.

“What we are seeing now is a willingness from our sector to continue this work as we recover from COVID-19 with a pioneering program aimed at preventing mental health issues.”

Australians as a whole have been hard hit by COVID-19’s lockdown, according to a recent CSIRO study on the pandemic’s impact toward weight and emotional wellbeing.

The study, which surveyed 4000 CSIRO online community members found that exercise (66 per cent), emotional wellbeing (41 per cent) and diet (36 per cent) have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

“Our analysis found that the COVID-19 outbreak has negatively impacted respondents’ health and wellbeing,” CSIRO behavioural scientist and report author Emily Brindal said.

“Increased concern about finances and the certainty of the future also featured strongly, as restrictions ease and respondents adjust to a new normal.”

Brindal also highlighted that there was a reduction to other concerning areas.

“Almost 60 per cent of respondents reported a negative shift in their overall satisfaction with life,” she said.

“This number was noticeably higher for those who were identified as highly extroverted, with this group seeing significant impact from the lack of social interaction.”