There has been fair amount of brouhaha surrounding the mental health of Australia’s men over the last couple of years—and with good reason—as suicide and depression rates in industries such as farming, construction and mining appear to have skyrocketed. While the farmer’s struggle of drought, isolation and keeping food on the table is well documented, the struggles facing FIFO and DIDO workers and their families has received less attention. An often overlooked consequence of the unsociable hours and working conditions of FIFO workers is the effect it has on the families who remain at home. Mining spouses and children especially, face significant challenges.
Alicia Ranford, winner of the 2016 Women in Industry award for Social Leader of the Year, attests to this. In her article, Reassessing FIFO After Roster Changes for Australian Mining’s blog:
“For FIFO workers, lengthy time apart from family and friends is likely to increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. These workers are also likely to be much more tired during their time at home, which affects the quality of precious days together and often increases stress levels among partners.”
As creator and director of Mining Family Matters, Alicia knows only too well the struggle that FIFO workers and their families face. Having moved six times in just a decade, with children in tow, Alicia and her family have struggled with the isolation faced by both FIFO families, as well as by those who settle for a time in remote mining towns. Alicia founded Mining Family Matters, along with friend Lainie Anderson, to support Australian mining families with practical advice. Having only been around since 2010, the organisation has already sold over 120,000 copies of their ‘survival guides’ and have a readership of thousands each month.
Together with Wesley LifeForce, Mining Family Matters have created the Rock Solid Suicide Prevention Program, to address depression and suicide in those working in the resources sector, as well has assist their families to cope with the hurdles of the long hours, time away from family and stress of the job.
Some of the greatest hurdles for the families of both FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) and DIDO (drive-in, drive-out) workers include not only isolation, but managing a household and children largely alone, and difficulty in forming lasting friendships. The transient nature of mining families can make it hard for those left at home to form support networks, as people come and go so often.
Mining mum Stephanie Cremin told ABC’s Nathan Morris about her experience.
“You know, they stay for a few years, you get close, and then they move,” she said. “I sort of don’t want to make new friends, because they all end up leaving anyway. Sometimes it’s easier just to stick to yourself and your own family.”
Recognising this issue as common among mining spouses who are left to run the household and build a life from a remote town, or at home without their partner, Alicia Ranford published a list of 20 quick tips for conquering FIFO. The list includes guidelines such as:
- Discussing big issues with your partner
- Keeping communications open
- Understanding why you/your partner works FIFO and your goals are
- Don’t dwell on being apart
- Be smart about money
- Maintain a unified front with the kids
- Create some family rules and involve the children
- Speak about Mum or Dad ‘going to work’ not ‘going away’
- Do not be afraid to seek advice or help from a GP, employee assistance or friends
You can see Alicia’s full list here. Much of the advice from Mining Family Matters and other support organisations centres around having a solid idea about the reasons for FIFO or DIDO work, and what it means for the family, as well as having a plan for tackling the tough times.