The on-going effort to maintain mental health in the cockpit

Airline Captain and Mental Health
Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

In 2015 Germanwings highlighted Pilot Mental Health

Second Burjeel Medical Aviation Congress adds some useful thoughts

Three recent medical journals make excellent suggestions

The FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine has as one of its missions the determination of physical and mental fitness of pilots. The medical standards for physical health are better defined that the psychological criteria indicative of the cockpit crew’s readiness for flying a commercial aircraft.

GermanwingsThe Germanwings pilot suicide by crashing his plane and killing all of his unsuspecting passengers elevated the need to address Pilot Mental Health

 

 

 

 

The below article, based on a meeting of Aerospace Doctors from around the globe,- postulates that the COVID pandemic increases stresses on these professional aviators:

“The long work hours, erratic sleep patterns, and circadian rhythm disruption can cause fatigue, mood changes, anxiety, etc. Medical experts believe the pandemic and the subsequent crisis in the airline industry have had a profound impact on aviation employees’ physical and mental health.

The psychological stressors during Covid-19 included job insecurity, pilot proficiency, financial concerns, fear of contracting Covid-19, etc. Experts assert that the pandemic has affected the cognitive abilities of pilots like situational awareness, working memory, concentration, reaction time, multitasking, etc.

Since 2015 defining the proper method to detect and address the psychological competence of these most important airline safety officers. Here is a brief review of some of the way points in this effort:

·       APRIL 2, 2015 Response To Germanwings’ Pilot Mental Health Issue—Not More Examinations, But Constant Management/Peer Awareness?

·       JUNE 13, 2016 Pilot Mental Health—The Thoughtful, Well-Reasoned FAA ARC Recommendations

·       MARCH 2, 2017 Harvard Chan School Of Public Health Study Makes Findings About Pilot Mental Health; Is There A Second Iteration Which Can Detect Pilot Mental Problems?

·       NOVEMBER 12, 2018 Airline Pilots Need Not Lie To FAA About Mental Health To Keep Flying

·       JUNE 28, 2021 Update On Pilot Mental Health Actions Since Germanwings

·        DECEMBER 19, 2021 Germanwings

The 2015 report produced a state-of-the-art set of recommendations:ARC report

  1. ENHANCE AME TRAINING
  2. PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING.
  3. PILOT ASSISTANCE
  4. AIR CARRIER EDUCATION.
  5. INFORMATIONAL MATERIAL ON PILOT SUPPORT
  6. MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL
  7. TWO PERSONS ON FLIGHTDECK AND FLIGHTDECK ACCESS
  8. AIRCRAFT DESIGN STANDARDS

 

 

Here are some more recent studies and recommendations on Pilot Mental health:

1.Work related stress study

 

recommendations

2.

Aerospace Medecine

 

recommendations

 

3.

Embry-Riddle Aeronatical University

 

 

recommendations

 

While hardly definitive, these recent recommendations indicate that the aerospace medical profession is hard at work seeking better diagnostic criteria and more effective rehabilitation techniques.

signs and remedies


Prioritising mental health in pilots is the need of the hour

conference banner

 

With the aviation industry back on the path to recovery, top aviation medicine experts are urging airline companies to prioritise the mental health of employees. Mental health issues in pilots and the post-covid threats on operations staff were among the key topics discussed at the Second Burjeel Medical Aviation Congress organized by Burjeel Hospital, Dubai, a unit of VPS Healthcare. The two-day event, held under the patronage of the General Civil Aviation Authority of the UAE, saw healthcare professionals and experts discuss the latest developments in aviation medicine.

Impact of the pandemic

Working in the aviation industry comes with specific health-related challenges. The long work hours, erratic sleep patterns, and circadian rhythm disruption can cause fatigue, mood changes, anxiety, etc. Medical experts believe the pandemic and the subsequent crisis in the airline industry have had a profound impact on aviation employees’ physical and mental health. The psychological stressors during Covid-19 included job insecurity, pilot proficiency, financial concerns, fear of contracting Covid-19, etc. Experts assert that the pandemic has affected the cognitive abilities of pilots like situational awareness, working memory, concentration, reaction time, multitasking, etc.

Dr Edma Naddaf, aviation psychologist, Dr Edma Naddaf, aviation psychologist, said: “The pandemic has had a double impactphysical and psychological in aviation employees. We started seeing problems in very competent people. The more confident they were, the more scared they were to appear weak. As many as five in 10 patients were being referred for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment.”

According to Dr Naddaf, while pilots who lost their jobs were under tremendous stress, those who were retained by their employers were equally stressed out. She referred to the case of a patient in his late 30’s who suffered from panic attacks because he felt he was being treated like an outcast during the initial phase of the pandemic. Another pilot was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood. He was triggered by the changes due to Covid-19 and experienced a lot of insecurities. “In the UAE, we had support from the authorities. We did a lot of things for frontliners like setting up call centres. But I’m not sure if that was the case everywhere.”

 

Stronger support systemsConference attendees

Strengthening mental healthcare systems is the need of the hour. Pilot mental health is a safety risk according to experts at the conference who exhorted healthcare providers to make company-level changes to prioritise the mental health of aviation employees. They suggested solutions including regular workshops on coping strategies, providing a non-judgemental listening ear, setting an incentive for self-reporting, etc. They also advocated a stronger collaboration between aviation medicine and psychology to develop new strategies to mitigate the risk associated with long Covid.

pilot staring at an airplane



 

Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

Be the first to comment on "The on-going effort to maintain mental health in the cockpit"

Leave a comment