Opinion piece By Jason Tulipan on Mental Health in the FIFO Sector and dealing with mental health issues.
I am currently a relieving Master and Chief Officer on an offshore tug working off Broome for the Shell Prelude FLNG. We do 5 weeks at sea and 5 weeks off. I know that compared to some FIFO rosters we are lucky, however, any roster has good and bad and brings issues. I also consider anyone who has a job at the moment is very lucky and I am grateful every day for that.
I have been going to sea most of my life and have also spent several years in management. I have also been through my own mental health issues …
Over the last 3 years, I have been working on offering the FIFO sector mental health first aid training and auditing for implementation of mental health awareness into company policy and management systems.
I have been involved in several cases of helping people deal with mental health issues either while they are away offshore, or while they are at home.
Recently I was involved in a case of a crew member slipping into psychosis which highlights that 1 in 3 people in the FIFO sector will require some form of help or deal with mental health issues. This is another subject alone on how we should have some training or awareness and how to help a fellow worker if we suspect we may be able to encourage someone to discuss their mental health.
Roughly 5 years ago, I sailed with a seaman who was a 6.8 foot massive (wonderful) man, and I had known him for many years. One night on watch, I was discussing some of the things I had to give up and seek help for to get my mental health back on track. I discussed that I had given up drinking and practised mindfulness.
Mental health FIFO sector perspectives – The Carpet Inspector
As we knew each other well, he opened up about his drinking problems at home (on his leave; 5 weeks off). Basically, he would drink 2 bottles of Scotch a day. He said he became a “carpet inspector” – drinking, passing out face down, waking up, and after inspecting that piece of carpet for a few hours he would repeat the process again.
I worked on the vessel for 12 months with this gentle giant, and I tried everything to get him to just try and not drink so much on his leave. After all – it was costing him everything. But regardless, he was able to join a vessel and give up drinking for 5 weeks, so he had it in him to go higher. Unfortunately about 2 years after he left that vessel, he had passed away due to complications from drinking and smoking. He was lonely and was not with his family anymore.
If only he realised he was so close to being able to walk away from his terrible addiction and have real quality of life.
What fascinates me about us FIFO workers, is that we can go away and stop our addictions or look after ourselves better than at home; but when we are home, we wipe ourselves out in some way of self-abuse. Even if it’s relationship issues and we don’t have any addiction issues — we seem to divide our life into 2 working dysfunctional ways.
I know there are so many excuses we can have in our never-ending thought stream ranging from, “I don’t have any problems, its everyone else” to “ I will deal with it tomorrow or next trip home/away”.
I know how hard it is to deal with addictions or facing issues, and yes it is hard living 2 lives that are different when we are away, and when at home (it is also very hard for our loved ones). Couple that with people with child support issues or whatever we are going through…
My message is here:
We know that while we are away we seem to be able to deal with issues differently or we have an additional discipline kick in that we allow ourselves to give something up. After all, every time we go to work we give things up.
If you really want to make some changes in your life and work on your mental health try using your time away as a retreat, take some self-help books, diet or start working on the issues that frustrate you, either accept them and move on or deal and work with them.
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Then the trick is – do these things at home as well.
We will find that we become good at practising healthy options at work, but get home and they fall apart.
So start noticing at work the issues that bug you —- work on them while you are away, then do the same when you are at home. Try to trick the process around a little.
As I mentioned mindfulness was the key for me.
Start to notice the voice in the head and it’s never-ending complaining or while you are reading this, there may be a voice stating “my problems are too big to deal with”, “I need more time to deal with any of them”. COME ON. Do something positive today for your mental health to change your thought process or even to start noticing your negative thoughts – is a great start.
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