Mental Health in the Canadian Oil and Gas Industry

Mental Health in the Canadian Oil and Gas Industry

The Effects of the Canadian Downturn

Due to being the fifth and fourth largest producer of oil and gas respectively, Canada has been providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to people from across the globe for decades, fueling its own economy in the process. The last 3 years has seen over $65 billion taken out of Canada’s oil and gas industry due to a decline in capital investment and plummeting crude oil prices, resulting in extreme cost-cutting, mass job losses and the cancellation of dozens of projects. Sixty-five percent of oil and gas companies have reduced their staff, resulting in approximately 100,000 workers being made redundant.

Many skilled oil and gas workers have relocated abroad or to new states in search of work, not only due to redundancy, but also to the collapse of oil and gas training programs which could have provided them with the retraining for related jobs. Any new investment, whether project- or technology-related has therefore followed them. Job creation in this sector has been tight throughout Canada.

The Mental Health Fallout

CBC News, December 2015

’The suicide rate in Alberta climbs 30% in wake of mass oil patch layoffs’ CBC News, December 2015

‘Saskatchewan, another energy-dependent region, has a higher rate, and it’s seen 19% more suicides this year’ The Guardian, December 2015

By the end of 2015, requests to the Calgary Distress Centre for counselling services had increased by 80% according to counsellor, David Kirby (CBC News, 2015). He claims the issues people are facing are vast, including substance abuse, financial collapse, anxiety, depression and relationship conflict. For those lucky enough to still be in employment, longer working hours are causing high levels of stress and fears that complaints will result in their lay-off too.

According to the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the oil and gas crisis in Scotland has “critically undermined rig safety, as workers fear reporting issues in case it results in job loss, causing serious health and safety implications – and there is fear a similar issue could be uncovered in the Canadian industry. As in Canada, workers are facing redundancy, shift pattern changes, wage reductions and loss of colleagues, and are being expected to take on their work.

We caught up with David Kirby recently to talk about the impact of job loss on mental health, how job loss can affect the family unit, and the work of the Calgary Distress Centre.

“In general our agency has seen about a 15% increase in service use over the past two years that we relate to the recession and impacts of it in the energy sector in Calgary. Certainly, we’ve had many more calls related to resources for emergency financial assistance to pay for rents, mortgages, utility bills, and even to put food on the table. The amount of suffering created by the recession and sector slowdown in Calgary and across our province has been unfathomable. Anecdotally, we can say that this is certainly the worst we ever seen it locally.”

Commenting on how the Distress Centre helps those facing job loss to cope, David said:

“In general we encourage people to reach out and talk to someone (i.e. our 24-hour crisis lines) when they’re feeling stressed about their future. We know that the sooner people reach out for help, the more likely the psychological impacts can be lessened. We encourage people affected by job loss to use their support system, focus on what they can control, develop an action plan for creating some positive change, and use the time to evaluate their values, priorities, and focus time and energy on self-care.

Many people find the prospect of having to ‘start over’ very much intimidating and difficult to cope with. We often encourage people to use the time to reconnect with their values and reconsider other hopes and dreams they may have had at earlier points in their lives, essentially trying to turn a negative into a positive.”

Click here to read David’s full comment

“Unless you have strong mediatory factors in place – such as good supervisors and HR support, chronic stress can be very negative, not just for the individual but also the organisation.”Margaret Crichton, Managing Director of People Factor Consultants (PFC)

Looking To The Future

Fortunately, the Canadian oil and gas industry is forecast to recover this year. Employment will grow steadily between 2017 and 2020 as new investment is placed in projects including a large two-train LNG facility in British Columbia. Market prices will increase from US$40 per barrel to US$71 with profits reaching 2010’s level of $13 billion by 2021. This is clearly positive, but because of the effects of the recent downturn, employers should put preventative measures in place and provide support for those showing signs of stress.

‘’5,200 wells are expected to be drilled across the country this year, an increase of 975 wells projected in November’’ Calgary Herald

Downturn relocations, baby-boomer retirements and technological advancements are causing an urgent need to appeal to younger workers from across the globe. With recent mental health campaigns such as Canada’s, ‘Not Myself Today’ and England’s, ‘Time To Change’ the younger generation are becoming more aware of its potential impact, explaining their greater likelihood to take part. They are also expecting a more open approach to mental health, demanding their employers account for this. Therefore, oil and gas companies should act, not only to attract new workers, but to give much needed support to their current ones.

When you’re living with mental illness, external circumstances that would normally be stressful for anybody are even more stressful. Job loss and unemployment certainly fall into that category. When faced with such a scary situation, it is more important than ever to make sure you’re using healthy coping mechanism, sticking to a routine as much as possible and staying productive, maintaining any treatment and also seeking additional help if necessary. Counseling and therapy can be beneficial in particularly difficult situations, especially as a supplement to other treatment methods and self-care.

Chelsea Ricchio, Communications Manager,Healthy Minds Canada

 


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