SIA launches mental health program for fisheries

A program focused on mental health early intervention, engagement and education in the Australian commercial fishing industry has been launched to better identify and respond to mental health issues in the fishing sector.

The $600,000 program, funded under the Australian Government’s Mental Health Program, will be trialled in three target communities providing industry, primary health networks, community leaders and trusted industry advocates with training and resources to assist in better identifying and responding to mental health issues.

SIA Interim CEO Veronica Papacosta said the program is being piloted across the country by Seafood Industry Australia (SIA) and supported by Women in Seafood Australasia (WISA) after research showed Australia’s commercial fishers experience twice the base-rate of psychological stress of any other sector.

The findings highlighted the need for a specialised program to connect fishers with existing services.

“We understand the pressures our fishers face are unique to industry, and a third of fishers who were suffering psychological stress said they hadn’t reached out for support because they didn’t feel health professionals would understand the pressures of the fishing industry.”

“We knew the supports exist, but our fishers are a stoic bunch and we needed to develop a way that would see them connect,” she said.

The pilot program has been specially developed to help break the stigma associated with poor mental health within industry, develop a network of trusted industry advocates who fishers could reach out to help them find support, and educate primary healthcare networks about industry pressures.

Program manager, Jo Marshall, said one of the first jobs has been to work with the national industry to identify three target communities where a localised mental health support program is needed.

“Following consultation we’ve selected Lakes Entrance, Victoria, Newcastle, New South Wales and Darwin, Northern Territory as our target communities.”

Within these communities, three trusted advocates will be identified to receive mental health first aid training and will act as mental health support coordinators on the ground.

“The trusted advocates will provide industry with information and referrals to local support services, and coordinate activities to build awareness of and reduce the stigma of mental illness within their communities,” Ms Marshall said.

The program has been welcomed by industry leaders in the target communities.

“I have now lived in the Lakes community for 10 years and I have found it difficult to watch the State Government end generational fishing livelihoods in order to promote recreational fishing,” South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) Executive Officer Simon Boag said.

“More recently I have watched Danish seine fishers pushed out of their fishing grounds by a foreign company looking for oil and gas, some to the extent that they’ve just tied-up.

“Fishermen are physically bullet-proof so I doubt that fishermen would even know how to start to address their mental battles. We are all faced with adversity, but the last few years have been especially tough for the Lakes Entrance fishing community and I am glad that this program has arrived,” he said.

SIA will also make available mental health first aid training for national industry leaders, and a series of Community Resilience Grants which will provide funding for industry events to be held where mental health information is available, or a speaker talks about their lived experience.

Ms Papacosta said the team was looking forward to learning from this pilot around which approaches and strategies work best for the industry.

“We know our fishers are a proud and stoic bunch who can struggle to admit when they may need to reach out for help. As an industry we need people who are trained to look out for warning signs and know how to approach a conversation with someone regarding their mental health,” she added.

If you, or someone you know needs help contact a crisis helpline:

  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
  • MensLine -1300 78 99 78
  • If there is immediate danger please call 000 or visit your nearest hospital emergency department.