According to a new study published on Wednesday, December 14th, in the journal Environmental Health, an impressive number of airline pilots experience suicidal thoughts and early signs of depression. Furthermore, in order to keep their jobs or avoid being grounded, hundreds of them do not seek professional help. Instead, they resort to self-medication, lunching on antidepressants and a wide range of other anxiety drugs, according to a team of researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan of Public Health.
Approximately 3,500 pilots took part in the study. An assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard T.H. Chan School and senior author, Joseph Allen, conducted the anonymous survey online between April and December 2015. The findings come only a year and a half after a depressed co-pilot working for the Germanwings airline deliberately crashed a plane, killing 150 passengers in the process.
Out of the 3,500 subjects, only 1,848 completed the survey. The study consisted of multiple questions that were addressing mental health issues related to depression or anxiety, as well as a range of standardized questions pulled from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
When Joseph Allen and his colleague Alexander Wu analyzed the results, they came to an unexpected conclusion. Nearly 233 pilots out 1,848 were displaying early signs of depression. Hence, statistically, 12.6 percent of the participants were experiencing mental health issues. Furthermore, 4.1 percent – or 75 pilots – that reported working two weeks before participating in the study experienced suicidal thoughts.
However, the team of researchers cannot diagnose the participants with depression, since they do not have access to the subjects’ health records. Even so, the numbers are alarming, says Mr. Allen and his colleague, Mr. Wu.
Official Pilot Evaluations
In response to the study’s findings, the Air Line Pilots Association said that people need to remember that airline travel is the safest means of transportation there is, in a written statement. The Pilots Association also pointed to the 27,000 successful takeoffs, as well as landing, the flyers accomplish every year in all sorts of weather conditions.
Ultimately, Joseph Allen and his colleagues say that the aerodynamical examiners are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to evaluate the physical state of the pilots. However, the examiners do not diagnose mental health issues. Hence, the only way a mental disorder comes to light is only if the pilot comes forward and mentions it.
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