Former FIFO worker urges mental health action

Open Up Podcast founder Lachlan Samuel. Photo: Ben Smith.
Open Up Podcast founder Lachlan Samuel. Photo: Ben Smith.

TWO years ago, Lachlan Samuel’s career – and life – was at its crossroads and his mental health rapidly deteriorating.

Jettisoned from his job as a FIFO worker after he was evacuated from the worksite, Mr Samuel’s mental well-being continued to slip.

Amidst some of his darkest days, he turned to podcasting in an effort to express his feelings and battle his demons.

165 episodes later, the Cockburn resident has a new lease on life, thanks in part to his Open Up Podcast, dedicated to helping others in their fight against mental health issues.

And although Mr Samuel said attitudes towards mental health had improved, there was still a long way to go and action was needed.

He said while younger workers within the industry had a lot more emotional intelligence, there were still prevalent negative attitudes among the older generation.

“While I was on site, a guy took his life and I went into depression because everyone was ragging on him, saying he was a ‘p****’,’” Mr Samuel said.

“When I first shared my story, the only real reaction was from FIFO workers who were saying ‘kill yourself.’

“Now it’s changed to an even balance of FIFO workers going ‘I really like what you’re doing, I’m going through something myself.’”

He said people from outside the FIFO industry often did not understand the isolation and monotony workers went through while on-site.

“They say ‘if you don’t like it, don’t do it’ but when your identity and worth is tied up into making a lot of money and working really hard, it’s hard to pull away from that because you’re going to lose that lifestyle for your family and therefore that makes you a failure,” Mr Samuel said.

“If you’re going away and having issues with your partner or family, they have to wait until they get back to their room to try and sort it out.

“You have your food cooked for you, free gym, someone cleans your room, you basically don’t have to do anything except put your washing in the washing machine and put it in the dryer.”

In addition to the podcast, Mr Samuel also runs mental health workshops and recently organised the inaugural FIFO Mental Health Summit, which involved leaders from the industry.

A state government report on FIFO workers’ mental health released in December found more than 30 per cent experienced high levels of psychological distress.

It prompted the release of a mental health code for the industry in April and Mr Samuel said while there was an appetite for change from within, there needed to be more focus on tackling the problem head on.

“We had high level management aware of the issues, but no one had a solution. All they use at the moment is an Employee Assistance Program, it’s not effective and it just mitigates the risk.”

“A lot of companies are scared to tackle the issue themselves in case they mess it up and lose the project.”

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.

More news from around Perth