Documentary Explores Mental Health of Oil and Gas Industry's Commuter Workforce

Credit: Dylan Rhys Howard.
A still from the Digging in the Dirt documentary, which focuses on men's mental health in the oil and gas industry.

A new documentary exploring men’s mental health in the oil industry takes a look at the toll that long hours and isolation can have on workers.

Digging in the Dirt is a documentary examining men’s mental health in the oil and gas industry, featuring workers who have struggled with addiction and depression.

The documentary touches on the isolation and loneliness experienced by men living in the industry’s work camps near Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada. Frequent themes are the lengthy stays away from families and friends, and a lack of recreation opportunities and support services.

The documentary aired on CBC and is now available online.

Filmmaker Dylan Rhys Howard said he first became interested in the project after reading a 2017 Buzzfeed article on the topic written by Omar Mouallem, who grew up in Slave Lake, Alberta, Canada, and is coproducer of the documentary.

“It’s very hard for men to talk about their feelings and when they have a situation like their marriage breaks down or something like that, they don’t know what to do with that information,” said Howard, who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “They don’t know how to handle it, how to process it, so they are at a great risk to just isolate, drink more.”

Howard said the documentary tries to look beyond the stereotypes that people with few, if any, connections to the oil and gas industry may have about the people who work in places like Fort McMurray.

“That idea of a young person with a jacked-up pick-up truck and a coke habit. Treating them in this stereotypical and disparaging way, we want to go beyond that,” he said. “When we approach people who are different from us with a sense of curiosity and respect instead of being afraid, I think that’s a huge part of this.”

While making the film, Howard said he was surprised to find that mental health is something people are beginning to talk about, especially from men in their 40s and older.

“As we are starting to get increased visibility and awareness about mental health in a broader sense culturally, these men are taking the opportunity to talk about what’s been going on with them and use this as a way to engage the younger generation in a conversation about this,” he said.

Read the full story here.



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