Researchers at the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP) are hoping to sort fact from fiction when it comes to suicide in the mining industry.

In popular debates and lay press, it is increasingly claimed that mining industry employment, especially “Fly-in Fly-out” (FIFO) work, may be associated with a heightened risk of suicide.

However, AISRAP Senior Research Fellow Dr Samara McPhedran said “despite intense interest and sometimes heated public debate, there has been very little rigorous study into suicide among miners.”

“Based on what we know about risk factors for suicide, it is fair to say that mining industry work has the potential to create stresses and challenges that may exceed some individuals’ coping abilities.”

Dr Samara McPhedran

Dr Samara McPhedran

Increased vulnerability

Particular risks include loneliness and lack of social support during time away from family and friends, along with geographic isolation and lack of service access.

Also, long working hours and irregular rosters, as well as repeated absences from home for FIFO workers, may contribute to marital and family problems.

These experiences can increase a person’s vulnerability to suicide and play a role in the development of two prominent contributors to suicide: depression and anxiety, and ‘self-medication’ through alcohol/drug misuse.

Queensland Suicide Register

AISRAP will be investigating suicide in the mining industry over the coming year, using data from the Queensland Suicide Register, a unique database containing over 10,000 suicide cases.

“From our initial work it seems that Queensland men who worked in the mining industry were more likely than men in other occupations, who also died by suicide, to experience relationship problems prior to death, but this needs to be looked into in more detail, ” Dr McPhedran said.

“In terms of policy applications, this could provide helpful information for identifying miners who are at risk of suicide, as well as point the way to possible industry-specific intervention strategies.”