‘Hyper-masculine environment’ contributes to higher suicides in oilpatch

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Gibe In the Dirt

Airs Sept. 13, 2019 on GEM and on Sept., 14 on CBC TV 7 p.m.

>> Watch online now

Alberta’s oilpatch tradesmen are suffering mentally at a disproportionately high rate, and a new CBC documentary Digging in the Grunge unearths why.

A combination of isolation, instability in the market, long hours and a “very much hyper-masculine environment” all contribute to higher suicide rates among oilpatch workmen, Omar Mouallem, co-producer of the film, told The Homestretch on Monday.

“You be experiencing a very hyper-masculine environment where it is difficult to say the least to be vulnerable, to word your emotions, to ask for help. Not asking for help is the thing that is unequalled so many men to take their own lives,” said Mouallem.

Throughout the documentary, Mouallem and co-producer Dylan Rhys Howard, assign three men employed in the oilpatch to tell their own harrowing stories of bent health. Experts also weigh-in and discuss what solutions could look equal.

'Hyper-masculine environment' contributes to higher suicides in oilpatch
Chris Johnson is an Edmonton crane operator with bipolar riot who shares his story in Digging in the Dirt, a CBC documentary. (Photo supplied by Omar Mouallem)

“We all conscious the stereotype, right, the young, uneducated single man living with rate abandon…that is a trope,” said Mouallem.

“Anyone who’s been in a exaggerate will tell you it’s one of the most ethnically diverse places you can be there. There are child from all walks of life.”

“The only true stereotype is it’s an overwhelmingly manful workforce,” said Mouallem.

The majority of people employed in the oilpatch are men. A absolute 7.1 per cent of women in Alberta were reported to be in the trades and trades-related labours according to the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey.

However, beyond gender, generalizing these workers is hard, as there are a wide range of ages, educational backgrounds and ethnicities characterized in the patch.

And while records are no longer kept in Alberta on the occupations of schnooks of suicide, Mouallem says older studies indicated occupations in trade and trades had the highest rate of suicide.

According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, Alberta suicide terminations rose between 2015 to 2017.

Surprising findings

Contrary to a widely proffered belief, oilpatch employees mental health has not only been negatively stricken by the economic downturn in 2015 and 2016 but is an ongoing struggle that has been occurrence “for a long time,” Mouallem said.

“What surprised me is when I talk to cerebral health experts, to mental health nurses, crisis intervention pros they said…we are certainly seeing more people who feel discouragement because they’ve lost their jobs or they can’t keep up with [their] financial affairs, but this has been going on for a long time,” Mouallem said.

In the documentary, some oilpatch wage-earners told Mouallem that their mental health actually decayed during the oil boom due to high work demand.

“Some people utter to me that is was worse during the boom. That there was so much assist…to the industry that the behaviour became reckless for a lot of people, that they weren’t competent to slow down and look after their psychological needs,” asserted Mouallem.

One interviewee in the documentary, Chris Johnson, an Edmonton crane wise guy, shared that the economic downturn actually allowed him time to look after his unstable health.

To the future

Mouallem believes the “biggest obstacle” these men experience is “men just don’t really like asking for help.”

“It’s hard to be vulnerable when you’re environed by that environment.”

He has been writing about men’s mental health for years, and joined prises with his filmmaker and co-producer knowing it was an important story to tell and re-tell.

The Alberta first of Digging in the Dirt takes place this Friday on CBC TV at 7 p.m. or on CBC Gem. Digging in the Indecency is part of the CBC series Absolutely Canadian

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