It is well known that workers in the oil and gas industry face many risks to their physical health. They work with heavy, complex equipment; dangerous chemicals; and in hazardous work environments. From explosions, to fires, to being crushed by vehicles, and falls from great heights, the dangers these workers face are almost more than any other profession. So it should come as no surprise that while these workers face incredible physical danger at their jobs, they can also suffer extreme mental health issues as well.
The Journal Record recently reported that depression and suicide are present in extremely high rates in the oil and gas industry, due to the difficulty of the job, long work hours, a reluctance to seek help, and an increased number of layoffs for seasonal work. The mental health of workers in this profession has gotten so severe that taskforces have been created to try and decrease the tragic rate of suicide for these workers. It is important to anyone in any job to recognize the symptoms of depression before it turns into suicidal ideation.
How much are oil and gas workers struggling?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction has the highest rate of suicide among all industries; 54.2 out of every 100,000 workers. Construction and Extraction jobs also topped the list for both men and women.
A quick note about Oklahoma’s construction workers
Construction work in general – whether it’s related to oil and gas or not – can lead to mental health conditions and illnesses. According to the CDC, construction workers are four times more likely to take their lives than the national average.
In response to this data, the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention was formed. The Alliance stated that while there about three job site fatalities every day on construction sites, there are 10 to 12 suicides among construction workers. This proves that suicide prevention and mental health awareness as providing physical safety measures for construction workers.
Due to this the high rate of suicide among construction workers, The Boldt Company developed a program called the Gatekeepers, who are specialized workers who offer peer-to-peer mental health assistance to those working in industries such as construction, and gas and oil.
Why Oklahoma City employers must pay attention to mental health
Employers should pay attention to their workers’ mental health, especially if they work in a dangerous industry like oil and gas or construction. Workers struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions may be more likely to get hurt on the job, or even cause an accident that can harm others. For example, depression and anxiety can both cause fatigue, and fatigue can be deadly. It increases the risk of truck accidents; it can also cause a worker to forget about safety protocols. A worker gets hurt and cannot work, the depression gets worse, and the cycle continues.
Aside from reasons of basic humanity, there are very good economic reasons to protect workers’ mental health, too. Fortune: Well, using data from the American Psychiatric Association, found that “workers with ongoing depression are typically 35% less productive. Plus the cost of absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical expenses related to ongoing and unresolved depression totals an estimated $210.5 billion per year.”
In short, it behooves OKC employers to provide services to protect their workers’ mental health. A safety harness can protect someone in a fall; a hotline or the inclusion of paid time off for wellness days may prevent injuries and deaths, too.
What are the signs that my job is affecting my mental health?
It may be difficult to tell when you are depressed, as we often get caught up in “the grind” of our work and life schedules. We work because we need an income to support ourselves and our family. When we’re not working, we have to do errands, cook, clean, take care of the kids, be there for our significant other and so on. It can be difficult to take stock of what is going on internally. It is important to take time for introspection, especially if we aren’t finding as much enjoyment in our lives as we used to.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a negative working environment can lead to:
- mental and physical health concerns
- lost productivity
- increased substance use
And that risks to mental health include:
- inadequate health and safety policies;
- poor communication and management practices;
- limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work;
- low levels of support for employees;
- inflexible working hours; and
- unclear tasks or organizational objectives.
Specifically, the WHO points out that workers in high-risk jobs such as oil and gas workers can lead to an increased risk in mental health disorders, and an increased risk of drug and alcohol use.
Symptoms of work-induced depression include:
- Increased anxiety levels, especially when managing stressful situations or thinking about work when you’re away from your job
- Persistent or prolonged feelings of sadness or low mood.
- Loss of interest in tasks at work, especially duties that you previously found interesting and fulfilling
- Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, or overwhelming guilt
- The inability to concentrate or pay attention, poor memory especially with new information
- An increase in mistakes at work
- An increase or decrease of weight and/or appetite
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, fatigue, and tingling in the hands or legs
- Leaving work early or not coming in at all
- Making decisions becomes more difficult
- Finding yourself more irritable, angry, and frustrated
- Crying or feeling like crying without any noticeable triggers
- The inability to sleep, sleep through the night, or sleeping too much (such as napping often)
- Self-medicating with alcohol or other substances
If you are feeling these things, it is a good idea to seek a change in your work life. Your mental health is important not only for yourself, but for your family and friends as well. They would rather see you happy and healthy than working yourself into a hole of depression so deep that you may find it impossible to climb out of.
If you find that you are considering suicide, it is important to seek immediate help. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) operates 24 hours a day and handles all kinds of mental health-related calls. Call 988 to contact someone who can help you.
We at Cunningham & Mears care about the health of our community’s workers, especially those who already work in a dangerous environment. Oklahoma is one of the top five states for oil production, which means we have a lot of oil and gas workers, and to ignore the needs of these important workers is dangerous and reckless If you are injured in an oil field or other work environment, and need representation, call our Oklahoma City injury lawyers (405) 232-1212 or complete our contact form.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More