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Feasibility and Acceptability of Strategies to Address Mental Health in Coal Mining in New South Wales and Queensland

Open Cut » Occupational Health & Equipment Safety

Published: June 16Project Number: C22045

Get ReportAuthor: Brian Kelly, Robyn Considine | University of Newcastle

Improving the understanding of mental health problems, overcoming stigma and promoting advice seeking and support from available services, are all important steps in addressing the challenges for the workplace in addressing mental health.

The research team was awarded funding for a two-stage research project, to determine the extent and impact of mental health problems and their associated factors among coal mining employees in New South Wales and Queensland, and to assess the feasibility and acceptability of strategies to address mental health problems in the coal mining sector.

The initial prevalence study (phase one, report 1) involved a cross-section of employees from eight coal mine sites to examine the extent of mental health problems in coal mining employees. Mines were chosen to ensure inclusion of both underground (5 sites) and open cut mines (3 sites), and also representation of remote access workers and drive-in/ drive-out and locally based workers. Employees from all occupational groups at the participating mines were invited to participate in the research.

A total of 1,457 employees participated in the initial prevalence study (phase one) of the research. The profile of employees in terms of age and employment category closely aligned with state-based industry figures, indicating a broadly representative sample of the industry workforce.

The second stage of the research aimed to examine the acceptability and feasibility of programs to address mental health problems in coal mining. Of those sites that participated in the initial prevalence study (phase one), four sites were selected to receive the Working Well Mental Health Program (WWMHP), with the remaining four sites serving as control sites.

The multicomponent Working Well Mental Health Program was composed of:

· Mates in Mining (MIM) - Adapted from the Mates in Construction (MIC) peer assisted, evidence-based model of mental health awareness and support with the incorporation of wider mental health awareness education, to complement its focus on suicide prevention. Mates In Mining includes several components: General Awareness Training (GAT), Connectors; Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), Case management and field officers to support the participating sites external to the employer; 24/7 Help Line.

· Supervisor training that provided an introduction and overview of the issues relevant to managing staff experiencing mental health problems and/or suicidal behaviour and to build skills in responding to these issues.

· Policy review - developed to identify how mental health is understood and addressed by the organisation, to identify areas of policy that consider mental health, the impacts, and how to respond to them.

Survey (Phase two, Report 2)

The survey from the initial prevalence study was repeated at 7 of the 8 participating mines after the WWMHP had been implemented at the 4 mine sites. However, where the WWMHP was delivered, only 51% of the respondents to the phase two survey reported that they had completed any training. This may be the result of challenges in accessing all employees at sites, changes in staffing with different participants completing the phase two survey who had not completed the phase one survey, or as a result of this being self-reported, with employees not being aware of the specific name of the training they had received.

Summary

The WWMHP built employee resilience through improved coping skills and social support, as well as the promotion of improved understanding about common mental health problems and effective ways of responding if concerned about oneself or someone else. It also promoted a healthy workplace culture including stigma reduction, to promote support among work teams and groups. This program was well received with data from employees, supervisors and managers supporting the program. Positive changes in knowledge, attitudes and help seeking behaviours and improvements in levels of stigma were found from the education components. The policy review identified that management were also committed to the promotion of mental health and prevention of mental ill-health, with key parties involved in psychological health and safety initiatives. However, it was identified that improvements in policy, practice and involvement of all levels of the organisations would assist in the creation of mentally healthy workplaces.

The workplace provides unique opportunities to support better mental health. Mental health and wellbeing and physical health are very closely connected, and mental health interventions are best integrated within existing work health and safety policy and practice. A mentally healthy workplace creates a positive working environment that builds individual skills and resilience, reduces workplace risks to mental health problems and supports staff in recognising those with mental health problems and supporting peers. A "mentally healthy workplace" strives to take mental health interests of all employees seriously by supporting mental health among employees at all levels. Workplace mental health programs, targeted to mining, to are also a sound investment, delivering significant financial and social returns.

THE FINAL REPORTS (STAGES 1 AND 2) ARE PROVIDED TOGETHER

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