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Is Mental Illness Among Pilots A Public Safety Issue?

October 2nd, 2015

mental illness, pilots

In the last few years there have been news reports about incidents involving pilots who were struggling with mental health issues. Many airlines and aviation regulatory agencies expect pilots to self report any issues but is this letting the fox guard the chicken coop? Pilots may fail to disclose any problems out of concern that they will no longer be allowed to do their job, leading to a lack of income and a stigma associated with them that could affect their entire career in the aviation industry. The recent Germanwings crash also highlighted the issue of mental illness among pilots. In the USA the FAA created an exception in 2010 for pilots who are on antidepressant medication for depression that is categorized as mild to moderate, but even this is questionable.

Statistics show that those who start taking certain antidepressants can see an increase in the risk of harming themselves or others. Pilots who have mental illness may try to hide this fact so that their job and financial security is not jeopardized, but this could place the public at risk and few passengers would be willing to get on a plane if they knew the pilot was depressed and on medication. A balance needs to be struck so that the safety of passengers and the public are not placed at risk while allowing pilots to report any mental illness in a way that is safe and confidential. This is also true for pilots who are struggling with substance abuse problems. As long as the current system is in place pilots may not disclose any mental illness symptoms.

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