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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Why is Mental Health Stigmatized...

In Aviation?

Afraid of Losing Your Medical

For the previous two days I have been writing posts authored by Gitte Damm concerning human factors with resilience and personalities in the flight deck. Today she writes about mental health:  

"Since nobody has talked openly about these issues in the airlines, too many pilots are afraid of losing their medical – not being aware of the fact that it is treatable. It can be difficult to express mental issues because it is individual and invisible to others. It’s always easier saying “I broke my arm, and will be away for the next couple of weeks”.

I find one of the reasons to why pilots find it hard to speak up, is trust issues with the management. Being a pilot is a dynamic job, with different colleagues every time, different places for check in and you might not have seen your leader/chief pilot in months. This can create a distance and a culture among aircrew where it is “them versus us” making it hard to establish a trust of which you would feel comfortable talking about mental health issues.

We have seen it with the problem of pilot fatigue. Again it’s individual, and not black and white. A survey made in Europe in 2012 told us that only 20-30% of pilots write a report, when being fatigued. The argument I meet when out teaching is often in the lines of “why bother, nobody does anything about it”.

Is Mental Health Self-Assessment 
A Weakness or a Strength?

Self assessment should be a strength. Pilots who can say, "Today I can't fly!" because of a thunderstorm in the environment or one in their personal lives should be applauded. We want our pilots to come forward, but the problem begins when the pilot's career is on the line if they claim they may have a problem, even if only for a day. 

Currently there are far too many airline managers (pilots no less) that are utilizing mental health as a retaliatory tactic, because they can. The FAA has termed this "medicalization of a workplace dispute." Not only a dispute, but pilots have been retaliated with this tactic for bringing safety issues forward. 

JDA Solutions

At U.S. airlines, mental health is also considered in the same category as an alcoholic for insurance purposes. If the pilot has a drinking problem they are allotted a given amount of time (1-2 years) to get clean and sober or they are off disability. If they clean up, they can return to flying. 

However, a pilot with a mental health issue may not have an option to get better, and it is definitely not a choice. If able to get better, it may not be in the time frame identified for an alcoholic. Thus, pilots will not come forward because if they lose their medical, they will not be protected with disability insurance in the same manner as if they had a stroke. This must be changed to enable pilots to come forward if they have a serious problem. 

Mental health is a serious issue and should be addressed similarly as any other illness. It does not have to be permanent, but it can be performance impacting if not treated. Every airline should allow for mental health days of their employees without fear of retaliation. Pilot managers who use mental health as a retaliatory tactic against pilots who report safety issues should be castrated or at the very least held accountable. 

It's Time for Change! 
Thankfully Gitte Damm is making an effort!  

To read Gitte's full article on mental health, 
to include tips on stress management, 
click on the link below: 

Never Give Up...
You are not alone!

Enjoy the Journey!
XOX Karlene 

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