Image licensed to Brian Zinchuk via Storyblocks

A looming and largely ignored mental health crisis threatens Estevan coal families

By Craig Johnston:

The pending closure of a coal mine can have devastating impacts on the mental health of miners and their families. Many coal families have been in the mines for generations, adding an extra layer of complexity to the issue. The mental health issues faced by miners are broad ranging and sometimes difficult to diagnose. Some of the more common ones include:

Loss of identity: For many coal miners, their work was a significant part of their identity. The closure of mines can lead to a loss of purpose and direction, which can contribute to depression and anxiety.

Financial stress: Coal mining was often a well-paying job, and the closure of mines can lead to financial stress for miners and their families. The loss of income can lead to difficulties paying bills, buying food, and maintaining their standard of living.

Health problems: Many coal miners are at risk of developing health problems such as black lung disease, which can impact their mental health as well. The closure of mines can make it more difficult for miners to access healthcare, exacerbating their health problems and adding to their stress.

Uncertainty about the future: The closure of mines can create uncertainty about the future for miners and their families. This uncertainty can lead to anxiety and depression as people worry about how they will support themselves and their families.

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Depression: The sudden loss of income and identity can lead to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. Many miners may struggle with feelings of depression as they adjust to life outside the mines.

Anxiety: The uncertainty of the future can lead to anxiety about finances, job prospects, and the ability to provide for themselves and their families. This can cause feelings of stress and worry that can be difficult to manage.

Substance abuse: Coping with the loss of a job and the stress of financial uncertainty can lead some miners to turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with their feelings. This can lead to addiction, which can further exacerbate mental health issues.

Social isolation: Many miners have spent their entire lives in close-knit communities centered around the mines. When mines close, these communities may break apart, leaving miners feeling isolated and disconnected from the people and places they once knew. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression.

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It is important to recognize that the closure of coal mines can impact not only the mental health of miners but also the mental health of their families It is essential for communities, governments, and employers to provide resources and support for coal miners and their families during the transition away from coal mining. This can include retraining programs, job placement services, financial assistance, and mental health support. These resources can help ease the transition and promote good mental health and well-being.

Coal miners may face significant challenges when discussing their mental health due to several factors. These factors include:

Stigma: There is often a stigma attached to mental health issues, and coal mining culture may view seeking help as a sign of weakness or an admission of inability to handle the stresses of the job.

Masculine culture: Coal mining is a male-dominated industry, and there may be pressure to conform to traditional masculine norms, such as toughness, self-reliance, and emotional stoicism. This can make it difficult for miners to open up about their feelings and seek help.

Fear of job loss: Coal miners may fear that admitting to mental health issues will jeopardize their job security, as there may be a perception that workers with mental health issues are less productive or less reliable.

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Lack of access to resources: Many coal mining communities are located in rural areas with limited access to mental health resources, including mental health professionals and support groups.

Lack of awareness: Coal miners may not be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental health issues or how to access resources for help.

Overall, the stigma surrounding mental health, traditional masculine norms, fear of job loss, lack of access to resources, and past traumatic experiences can all make it difficult for coal miners to discuss their mental health struggles. All of these factors can make it difficult for coal miners to discuss their mental health openly and honestly. However, it is important for miners to recognize that seeking help for mental health issues is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Mental health issues are common and treatable, and early intervention is essential. It is crucial to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and increase access to resources and support for coal miners and their families. It is important to provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment for miners to talk about their mental health and to ensure that they have access to the resources they need to address their mental health concerns.

Click here for more on Estevan’s mental health services

Craig Johnston,

Executive Director

Saskatchewan Coal Transition Centre

 

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Op-Ed: Saskatchewan Coal Transition Centre: Sabotaging our future: How SaskPower’s $1 billion scheme to import power from the U.S. will devastate Estevan and leave Saskatchewan’s economy vulnerable