A recent study has determined that airline pilots often fly under the symptoms of depression.

It was also noted that many pilots reported having suicidal thoughts as they worked. The research is an effort coming from the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash in the French Alps back in 2015, where the co-pilot intentionally crashed the plane, killing everyone on board.

Airplane pilots
According to the United States Federal Aviation Administration, there were a total of 617,128 pilots by 2013. oImage credit: iStock.

Pilots are dangerously prone to be depressed

According to the study carried out by researchers from Harvard University, 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and its presence in airline pilots has long gone undocumented. To analyze this, researchers put up a web-based survey between April and December 2015 and asked pilots from several airlines, airports, and unions to gather research data.

3,278 pilots were surveyed and 12.6 percent were diagnosed with depression while 4 percent of the pilots reported having suicidal thoughts in the past two weeks. Also, there appears to be an increasing trend of sleep-aid medication use and an expectancy of sexual or verbal harassment from coworkers or travelers. Female pilots, constituting 4 percent of the commercial airline workforce, have confessed experiencing more days with a poor state of mental health and a higher degree of diagnosed depression compared to male pilots.

Although the results may not seem too alarming, researchers suggest that airlines should look into providing support for the mental health treatment of their pilots. They also propose that the depressive disorder may be caused by the pilot’s altered circadian rhythm.

A tragic flight for many

Germanwings flight 4U 9525 crashed in France on March 24, 2014, killing 150 people. Investigations show that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz suffered from clinical depression and had been treated for suicidal tendencies, being declared “unfit to work.” Lubitz did not say anything about his disorders when employed.

In the course of the flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, he took the chance and locked himself in the cockpit, then making the plane crash 62 miles to the northwest of Nice. The pilot, Captain Patrick Sondenheimer, was a veteran with 6,000 flight hours, while First Officer Andreas Lubitz had joined the company in 2013 and had 630 flight hours under his belt. Lubitz had trained in Germany and in the U.S., but in 2009 before getting his commercial pilot’s license, he suffered an episode of severe depression, which he did inform to his flight academy.

Lubitz did not leave a suicide note and none of his belongings showed any affiliation to terrorist organizations. Among his trash, investigators found a notice revealing that Lubitz was unfit to fly a plane due to his mental state. It was discovered that he had taken prescription drugs and had looked for “ways to commit suicide” on the internet, while also investigating about the security of cockpit doors. Lubitz was only allowed to fly in Europe due to his U.S. pilot’s license being denied because of his depression.

The airline pilot profession in North America is one of the most highly vetted careers today, It is important to remember that airline travel is the safest mode of transportation in the world,” stated Air Line Pilots Assn. International, which comprehends over 50,000 pilots for America and Canada.

Source: BioMed Central