Groups provide mental-health training for mining industry in Sudbury

Working in the dark, in stressful conditions with long hours and physical labour, mining is a taxing profession physically and mentally.

In time for Mental Health Week, two northern training providers -- Workplace Safety North, a health and safety training and consulting firm, and NORCAT, which provides skilled labour training and health and safety management -- are launching mental-health education initiatives aimed at mining.

“It’s dark underground, you’re working odd shifts, you’re working away from home a lot and that right there is tough,” said Greg Major, director of the NORCAT Underground Centre.

"Not every profession moves you away from home. They’re working by themselves plenty, so working as a miner is a unique position that not everybody can do."

NORCAT trainers received an introductory mental-health awareness course, a pre-requisite for the second part of the training.

That's where Angele Poitras comes in. Poitras is a Workplace Safety North psychological health and safety adviser certified with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Detailed instruction

Poitras has provided more detailed instruction on how to deliver the session, plus participants were able to review materials and conduct role-playing scenarios.

“So we went through a program and explained the differences between mental health and mental illness and mental harm," she said. "We also explained the mental-health continuum, which is a great tool to be able to see how you … are doing in regards to your mental health.

"We talked about stigma. We talked about being kind, how to act, listen, how to ask somebody are you OK.”

Poitras said the only good thing COVID has done is perhaps to bring mental health to the forefront.

“Our brain is an organ," she said. "It is no different than any other organ in our body and it's time that we pay attention to keeping people physically and mentally safe while on the job.”

Poitras said the most recent study on mental health in mining was completed by Vale between 2015 and 2017. It found most miners trend above the nation’s norm when it comes to sleep, fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mining mental-health survey

“They interviewed over 2,000 respondents in 25 work sites," she said. "Post-traumatic stress disorder is higher than the general population. There was some numbers around high levels of fatigue, which is normal with shift work. There was also some depressive symptoms that were higher."

"And now I think what we’re seeing in the news with COVID is some of our miners are what we call rotational workers, so they may live and work in different provinces and there’s a lot of stigma attached to them right now," she added.

Workplace Safety North is working on a mental health suite of services that it hopes to launch this fall.

“One of the programs is train the trainer," Poitras said. "We are going to take the learnings from the pilot project with NORCAT and we’re going to enter into mine sites and we’re going to train their own trainers on how to deliver programming -- and we do have a program that’s specific to supervisors. So we’re building internal capacity and we’re also spreading the messaging.”

If you or someone you love is struggling, here are ways to access help:

• Contact your local Canadian Mental Health Association

• Visit www.cmha.ca/bounceback

• Visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal

• Thinking of suicide? Call 1-833-456-4566 toll free in Canada (1- 866-277-3553 in Quebec).