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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.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Mental Health and Drinking

In the Airline Industry!

Three years ago I wrote a post critiquing a news article that said "4000 pilots a day were thinking about killing themselves." The theatrical article was based on a Harvard Study researching depression and mental health. That article has since been removed from the internet. Probably a good thing. 

The Research, however, Airplane pilot mental health and suicidal thoughts: a cross-sectional descriptive study via anonymous web-based survey was eye-opening, but for a different reason than expected. The researchers were looking into depression in response to the Germanwings pilot who crashed his plane. However, there was a problem with the original research.

The researchers stated, "We targeted female pilots in recruiting because of the small percentage of female pilots among the general airline pilot population." This makes no sense, as they should have strived to gather a sample representative of the pilot population, of 140,000 at the time of research.

Of the 1837 pilots who took the survey, 13.7% respondents were women. However, at the time of the study, women only represented approximately 4% of the pilot population. Therefore, the researchers selected over 3 times the percentage of females actually flying. Of course women would be more apt to disclose how they felt, and perhaps that was the reason for the selection, or the reason that women reached out.

The Elephant in the Research

The research identified: There is a prevalence of depression among pilots at 12.6%. This study included 13.7 % women. The study further identified elevated symptoms of depression with 13.5% using alcohol, and 13.6% used sleeping pills, and associated both with sexual and verbal harassment. The numbers speak volumes that harassment is ongoing, and could be impacting mental health in today's industry, and women are self-medicating as a result. 

What was missed by this study, that I can now state as a Doctor of Aviation, with a high degree of certainty, is that based upon this research:

Female Pilots are Being Sexually Harassed 
and coping strategies 
include alcohol and sleeping pills. 

 If you were consistently harassed 
wouldn’t you be depressed? 

Within a 30-day period 23 pilots experienced sexual harassment, and 67 pilots experienced verbal harassment. That means that 90 pilots in this study were harassed over a 30 day period. Combine these facts with a study that captured more women per percentage than are actually flying, and then the close percentage values as the same for harassment. I'm not sure how many male pilots are getting harassed and/or would make them depressed. We cannot state with assurance that the 13.7% women were inclusive of the 12.6% that were depressed as a result of harassment, or that 13.5% and 13.6%  drinking and sleeping pills, respectively, are the women.

The worst part of this is that I know many of these female pilots who suffer in silence. They can't do a "Me Too" movement because airline social media policies prevent them from speaking out. I also know female pilots who have spoken out that are no longer working, the perpetrators are. The only way to create change is through awareness.

Unfortunately the pilot unions are not assisting these women because of flawed thinking that they only represent the "membership" and that membership is 94% men. However, the bi-laws of ALPA, at least, state they represent the membership and the individual pilot. Yet, somewhere the women are lost.

How do we fix this? I'm not sure. Perhaps through awareness and willingness to stand up for what's right.

"You must be the change 
you wish to see in the world."

Mahatma Gandhi

I'm doing my best...
Changing the World one Word at a Time
Through my Writing. 

May the 4th Be With you

And the B787 Model be Yours...
Good Luck!

Enjoy the Journey
XO Karlene 

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