The Mental Health Crisis in Alberta’s Oil Patch

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The oil patch is typically stereotyped as being made up of rough and tough men and women, characterized by their physicality. This means that the emotional well being of these oil patch workers is often over-looked.

However, there are a multitude of situations and experiences related to the industry that can have significant impacts on the mental health of these men and women. The mental health crisis in Alberta’s oil patch has only worsened over the last few years, and it is time to recognize that taking care of one’s mind is just as important as taking care of one’s body.

The Stigma

Mental well-being is a topic that is all too commonly overlooked, mocked, or brushed off. This stigma makes it incredibly difficult for people to feel comfortable expressing their concerns regarding their mental health.

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This is especially difficult for those working in a community the focus is more on physical health, and “man up” is often the response to anything emotional. This type of atmosphere creates an unsafe community for anyone struggling with mental health issues, and a change in attitude needs to take place in order for this problem to be alleviated.

The Causes

There are many factors within the industry alone that affect one’s mental health. These can include traumatic experiences, the judgmental atmosphere, the more recent economic downturn and the “usual stressors of [that] life”, as described in Omar Mouallem’s Buzzfeed article as: “grueling hours, shift work, sleep deprivation, isolation from loved ones, and [the] boy’s don’t cry attitude”.

With no one to talk to and little to no workplace resources available, any of these factors can easily cause undue stress, anxiety, and even depression in oil patch workers.

The Facts

Alberta, being a trade-heavy, blue-collar province, often ranks high against the other Canadian provinces in regards to suicide rates. Mouallem explains that Alberta’s suicide rate spiked an alarming 20% after 2014’s economic difficulties.

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That, in conjunction with fact that trades industries out rank any other occupations suicide rate point to rather obvious conclusions. While there is no definitive evidence, it is not far fetched to conclude that those, especially the men, working away in the oilfields, are a large contributing population to this unfortunate statistic.

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The Solutions

Most importantly, the stigma surrounding mental health needs to be lifted. The attitudes surrounding the topic need to be reformed. The effects of shaming and teasing need to be addressed, and resources for support need to be made readily available in camps and work areas around the province. For examples, organizations such as Edmonton & Calgary based Insight Psychological offer corporate wellness programs for Oil & Gas companies.

Numbers for crisis hotlines should be made available and mental health days should be encouraged.


Oilfield Job Shop supports “The Wages”, the story of an oil patch worker who returns home after losing his career and marriage. Hoping to find a solid footing, he instead finds that those closest to him are also undergoing painful uncertainty.

Conclusion

With the mental health crisis in Alberta’s oil patch on the incline, it is more important than ever to educate ourselves on the importance of mental well being, and how to create safe and comfortable environments for those experiencing any type of mental health issues. By changing our attitudes and behaviours towards mental health and making support resources more readily available, we can make a difference. These factors can all contribute to lowering the suicide rate and enhancing the mental well being of thousands of Alberta’s oil patch workers.

Sources:

Mouallem, Omar. https://www.buzzfeed.com/omarmouallem/oil-heartbreak-and-manhood?utm_term=.klbQRdOKj#.ssPRJx2qg. August 21, 2017.

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