‘Digging in the Dirt’: An inside look at mental health in the oil sands

Erin Bezovie, CTV News Edmonton
Published Tuesday, September 10, 2019 9:12PM MDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 10, 2019 9:13PM MDT

A documentary is being released this weekend focusing on the psychological costs of working in the oil sands.

Digging in the Dirt profiles the high number of oilfield workers who struggle with mental illness, feelings of isolation and loneliness and a “boys don’t cry” attitude.

“That’s what we wanted to point our lens at. We wanted to talk about just sort of the mental health, the psychological cost of taking that job.” said filmmaker Omar Mouallem. “It’s not easy money, and guys will tell you that it’s not easy money. But the question of why is more complicated than just it’s a very physical job.”

Mouallem says the mental health problems aren’t specific to the boom or downturn of the oil sands.

“Industry and trades, these kinds of jobs tend to have a little bit more of a harder psychological impact on their workers.”

He says for some workers, it was more stressful because of the pace of life. And for other people it was more stressful after the downturn of the market, whether they lost their jobs or just didn’t work as much as they became accustomed to.

Mouallem says a lot of men get a lot of their personal identity from their work, so losing their job can have a more significant effect on them.

Mike Smith is a welding instructor at NAIT and knows first-hand how hard the industry can be.

“I have been touched by suicide closely, intimately in my personal life. And I’ve also suffered from mental health pretty well my whole adult life.” said Smith, “This resonates with me very, very soundly.”

Smith has helped bring a mental health program to NAIT for students.

“I think the more we communicate about that problem, then the better we’re going to be able to handle and help more people.” said Smith, “I think that the stigma is a really unfortunate symptom of the willingness of men to not bear their emotions, to not express themselves.”

If you need help there is a 24-hour distress line available 7 days a week.

780-482-4357 (HELP)