Airline pilots and mental health

- A plane may be the safest way to travel. However a new study published by the Journal Environmental Health reveals that a lot of pilots have depression symptoms. Dr. Nava Silton, a psychology professor at Marymount Manhattan College, says she is not surprised to hear that because of the profession's incredible pressure, stress, and long hours.

The anonymous survey was prompted by the 2015 plane crash of a Germanwings flight. An investigation found the co-pilot intentionally crashed the plane, killing 150 passengers. He reportedly had a history of severe depression.

One thousand eight hundred thirty seven (52.7%) of the 3485 surveyed pilots completed the survey, with 1866 (53.5%) completing at least half of the survey. 233 (12.6%) of 1848 airline pilots responding to the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9), and 193 (13.5%) of 1430 pilots who reported working as an airline pilot in the last seven days at time of survey, met depression threshold–PHQ-9 total score ≥ 10. Seventy-five participants (4.1%) reported having suicidal thoughts within the past two weeks. We found a significant trend in proportions of depression at higher levels of use of sleep-aid medication (trend test z = 6.74, p < 0.001) and among those experiencing sexual harassment (z = 3.18, p = 0.001) or verbal harassment (z = 6.13, p < 0.001).

J.P. Tristani, a former airline and military pilot who has over 40 years of experience, says being a pilot has its challenges, and as the study points out long hours could be to blame. 

Many pilots with symptoms of depression may not seek treatment due to fears of negative career consequences, such as being grounded. Dr. Silton says airlines should be promoting prevention and intervention when necessary.

In June, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it will require medical examiners who screen commercial pilots to undergo more training to help them better identify warning signs of mental illnesses. Still, though, commercial pilots will not need to undergo psychological testing. 

 App Store Get it on Google Play

  • Popular

  • Recent

Stories you may be interested in - includes Advertiser Stories