My role with Distress Centre Calgary is as the Clinical Services Manager, a position I’ve held for almost 10 years. My background is in Clinical Social Work. My main role is supervising our face-to-face crisis counselling program, one of our Agency’s core services along with a 24-hour crisis contact centre and also 211, the information and referral source for community, government, health, and social services. We’ve been providing no-fee crisis intervention services in Calgary for 47 years.
Some of the main psychological effects of losing a job include: anxiety, depression, loss of one’s identity, sadness, anger, sleep deprivation, relationship conflicts, substance use/abuse, and thoughts of suicide. In general, many of our service users describe some or all of these impacts. For many the uncertainty of how long the recession slow-down will continue has been very stressful. Many people relate to us that this current situation is the worst they ever seen. Even people who have survived previous ‘boom- and-bust’ economic cycles in Calgary relate how unexpectedly harsh this one has been, specifically in terms of the high degree of helplessness and hopelessness they feel for the future. Many people we hear from are resigned to accepting that life will never be as good as it was.
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 of our clients identify job insecurity and financial stresses impact their family relationships in negative ways. We typically hear of more conflict related to finances and the stresses of having to adjust to a reduced standard of living. Sometimes this conflict can develop into domestic violence or child abuse, adding further stresses and strains about the future. Often we hear about increased alcohol and other drug use as coping strategies to numb out from anxiety and the worries about the future. Generally we find that whatever the initial presenting concern, it doesn’t take long to uncover the roots stemming from job insecurity, fears and worries about the future, and especially about future losses of self-identity, relationships, and loss of respect of friends and other loved ones.
For many people the uncertainty of how long the impacts of the recession and sector slow-down will last creates a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude that creates a frustrating ‘holding pattern’ of helplessness. People more anxious about their immediate finances typically consider taking ‘survival jobs’ until the sector picks up again. In general, we hear many people are reluctant to abandon their former jobs and careers for lower paying jobs as that feels like a ‘step back’ in their career. Individuals nearing retirement are often most severely affected. They may not feel financially secure enough to retire early and often fear that their age and experience will be detrimental to finding new work. 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.
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 create 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.
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 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.”
“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)
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
In recent years, there have been examples of the industry becoming more aware of mental health and its importance, but the question remains – does oil & gas, for all the emphasis it places on physical safety, do enough when it comes to its peoples’ mental well-being? As part of our wider campaign on health and safety throughout the oil & gas industry, we’re taking a look at what mental health is, why it matters and the particular issues facing many oil & gas professionals.
In simple terms, mental health is a person’s social, emotional and psychological well-being. Far from being related to mood or something you can just snap out of, it can impact everything, from how we see the world around us to how we manage stressful situations. Without support, somebody with a mental health condition typically suffers in terms of sleep, productivity and loneliness. In the worst case scenarios, problems can lead to self-harm and suicide.
Poor mental health can manifest itself in many ways, from mild anxiety, depression or a mix of the two to severe phobias, disorders and addictions. However it hits, the impact is always hard. Whether brought on by biological or experiential factors, poor mental health can make seemingly simple tasks seem impossible and seriously hinder day-to-day life. While mental health is unprejudiced to gender, it’s widely reported that for men in particular, there is a real stigma around admitting to struggling or even just confiding feelings. Instead of opening up and sharing serious feelings for risk of being dubbed weak, they tend to shoulder the burden themselves or—worse still—attempt to treat themselves with alcohol and other substances. A lack of understanding around the causes of mental health can be a further worry – mental health issues are not always linked to a distressing event or a broader feeling of discontentment with life. A happily married, wealthy and professionally successful person, with a good circle of friends and close family ties, could still find themselves overwhelmed.
Currently 450 million people suffer from mental or neurological disorders across the world World Health Organization
The industry needs to look at how it is monitoring and managing the mental wellbeing of employees, especially those in remote environments, where mental strain is often heightened. In a sector where physical medical health assessments are the norm, firms need to ensure mental health support is also readily available. While the physical wellbeing of individuals should always be the chief concern, considering employees’ mental wellbeing is also in businesses’ interests.
While support and action is required for genuine change, we can start to create a better environment for good mental health by talking about it and being open about the factors that confront many Oil & Gas professionals on a daily basis. While our sector is home to some of the best opportunities in the world, the work can be mentally demanding and physically isolating.
“The isolation is the worst I think. Whenever you’re stuck out here your life does not progress, your personal development comes to a halt, meanwhile life back home in the world keeps on moving faster and faster without you. No-one wants to admit they feel low even though the majority of them are. I really think companies in this business should do more for the mental health of their employees.”Reddit user telecast5
We have eradicated, or controlled for, almost all the risk factors in the highly dangerous environment of oil and gas exploration and retrieval; the biggest risk factor we have left is our own refusal to respond to issues of mental health and wellbeing across the industry.Dr Steve Smith Senior Lecturer (Enterprise Fellow) in Mental Health and Wellbeing/ Enterprise Manager School of Nursing and Midwifery The Robert Gordon University
Often referenced as a perk, the travel associated with an oil & gas career can actually be a burden that goes much further than the pangs for home we all feel from time to time, whether on holiday or a work trip. Feelings of isolation and being cut off from loved ones can be severe in oil & gas workers, especially those working long stints in remote or offshore locations, or risky territories where communication with those back home might be limited. Rightly or wrongly, rigs, wells and other sites are often perceived as macho environments, where emotions are left at the door. As a result, it’s not uncommon for people to feel unable to share. Being away from loved ones, the people who know and understand you, can be tough and the feeling of loneliness, as well as any accompanying mental health issue, is only made worse by not having anybody to talk to about it.
However you look at it, oil & gas is an industry that regularly expects its people to make sacrifices. Alongside long, demanding stints away from home, employees are often stationed in desolate or hostile locations. This can lead to a lack of genuine down time, with offshore work being particularly draining, or spending a lot of time on edge in high-risk situations. In either scenario, stress and fatigue can quickly become overwhelming and could lead to mistakes that put the lives of others at risk. The pressure and expectation on employees can lead to inner conflict based on balancing a career with a family. Transitioning back to life at home and the accompanying loneliness is as much of a challenge. Feelings of being an outsider even at home and being more comfortable at work, with transient, non-committal relationships, make reintegration into home life another challenge.
As far as adjusting to normal life is concerned, you begin to lose your social skills when you spend too much time in the field. The whole time you’re out here you’re in a constant state of stress and high irritability. Your mind and body makes the adjustments it needs to survive and operate in this environment. So, when you get back home, you’re still in that mindset that you have out at the rig, it takes a while to shut that off, and most people find that off-putting. ,Reddit user telecast5
It isn’t appropriate for physical health to be the only priority, never mind the only concern, of hiring companies. It takes incredible bravery to talk about mental health and ask for help. Oil & gas companies need to make it as easy as possible. Recruiters like Petroplan take steps to ensure the professionals it assesses for jobs are fully aware not only of the physical but also mental demands of working in the energy industry. Applicants don’t have to live far away from home for the environment to become stressful. Most of our clients do view mental well being as important and we look to support their convictions by probing an applicant’s motivations and experience and ensuring the candidate is advised of the working conditions and expectations for a position. We would welcome more official guidance on assessing people for this often invisible need.
“The oil and gas industry is committed to promoting the health and wellbeing of everyone who works in, or may be impacted by, our sector. Health in general, and mental health in particular, have been of great interest to our members and we have published several guides over the years, including managing the psychological risks of expatriation and assessing and managing fatigue risks.” Chris Hawkes, Safety Director at the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers