Depression in Aviation

15% of your seniority list is depressed.

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A recent Harvard study found that thousands of pilots are depressed. Researchers calculated a stunning one in eight suffers. That’s over 1,800 pilots per legacy carrier. It’s not surprising though. Depression rates in America are extremely high, and as a matter of fact, they are extremely high in most western countries. Pilots are by no means exempt. Unfortunately, Andreas Lubitz proved it.

Who was First Officer Andreas Lubitz? By modern standards, he was a man with a dream job — First Officer on an A320. He worked for the ever-expanding company, German Wings. He lived in a nice city, yet he was depressed — severely depressed which led to a complete disaster. He dramatically gave into his depression when on 24 March 2015, First Officer Lubitz locked his captain out of the cockpit, and deliberately flew his A320 into the Swiss Alps. No one survived.

Following this catastrophe, researchers at Harvard began to question what any pilot who has ever sat right-seat to a guy complaining about his fourth divorce and then listened to him talk about his fiancée on the van ride to the Hilton, has questioned for years. Researchers began to investigate pilots’ mental health. What they found shocked the general public. According to a study conducted by Harvard University, one in eight pilots is depressed. That’s nearly 15% of your seniority list.

 Given the statistic, you may be thinking there is no way you could I ever fathom yourself or a colleague committing the atrocity of First Officer Lubitz. I and the researchers at Harvard would agree. There are different levels of severity for depression. One can be mildly, moderately, severely, or extremely depressed. Lubitz was extremely depressed. The Harvard study suggests that depressed pilots are usually mildly to moderately depressed so are not considered to be a threat to others.

Neither are pilots who suffer from mild or moderate depression considered suicidal. Do not be mistaken though, regardless of the tame wording of “mildly” or “moderate”, these people suffer deeply, whether it’s the feeling of lacking self-worth, or a whirlwind of negative emotions plaguing their day to day life. If it goes on for too long, it can become chronic, which is unfortunate, given that it is so easily treatable (without medication, and without any FAA involvement).

The problem with depression is that it rarely just goes away. You should seek treatment. You likely need to talk about it. You need to take care of yourself. You might benefit from talking with a therapist.

 So are you depressed? The Burns Depression Test is considered one of the most accurate means of determining if one is depressed.

To view or take the Burns Depression Test click here.

How did you score?

  • 0-5 no depression
  • 6-10 normal but unhappy
  • 11-25 mild depression
  • 26-50 moderate depression
  • 51-75 severe depression
  • 76-100 extreme depression

Some pilots take the test and find that they are depressed. Let’s face it, even in the wake of our dream job, this career is mentally taxing. We spend much of the time away from our families. Our routine is a lack routine. We face high divorce statistics. We often experience lengthy contract negotiations (which reinforce negative emotions). Even fatigue increases our chances of depression. It’s a great job but it can be a brutal career.

So now what? Well if you scored 11-50, it’s time to call a therapist. Now, before you worry, it won’t affect your medical. Therapists can’t even prescribe medications unless they are a psychiatrist (MD). Instead of medicating you, a therapist will help you identify the source of the problem and help you take steps to correct it. The best part is, you don’t even need to give up a day off. Many therapists can help you eliminate your mild to moderate depression over the phone. To find a therapist, consult betterhelp.com.

It’s important to remember that depression does not fix itself. Most people in these circumstances will simply visit a therapist and after a few sessions will have gained the tools they need to turn their emotions around.

According to Harvard, one in eight pilots is depressed. Are you one of the eight? If you are, you do not need to suffer. Talk to someone. ACN

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