Mental Health in Aviation
Discussing pilot mental health brings to mind the tragic Germanwings catastrophe of 2015. On March 24th, an Airbus A320 crashed into the French Alps, resulting in the loss of 150 lives. The investigations revealed that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, intentionally crashed the aircraft while the Captain was outside the cockpit.
Shockingly, it was later discovered that Lubitz had been dealing with severe depression, which he had not disclosed to anyone. This tragic event emphasized the critical importance of addressing mental health issues within the industry before they impose clear danger.
The Root Couse of Pilot Stress, Anxiety and Depression
Once the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the global commercial airline industry experienced a significant 60-80% reduction in flight operations, leaving pilots with job uncertainty, financial difficulties, a loss of purpose, isolation, and loneliness. All of that contributed to increased stress and anxiety levels.
While the industry has since stabilized, stress and anxiety persist. Why? Because flying comes not only with excitement and impressive salaries, but also a high-pressure environment, immense responsibility, managing unforeseeable scenarios, etc., which creates an almost inevitable cycle of stress and anxiety.
Interestingly, some studies revealed that short-haul pilots present the highest total and mental stress levels. It can possibly be explained by the fact that they perform more take-offs and landings per duty period than long-haul pilots, resulting in a higher workload.
But there are ways to cope with that – at least to minimize the struggle.
Explore Meditation to Improve Mental Well-being
Whether you’re an aspiring pilot, a current aviator, or simply seeking mental balance, consider incorporating deep breathing techniques, mindfulness, meditation, or yoga into your daily routine. These techniques foster relaxation, focus, and self-awareness – invaluable stress-reduction tools.
Grounded Pilot Started Flying Again Thanks to Meditation
Carl Eisen, an Airbus A300 Captain, was at the height of his career in the autumn of 2007. Having collected over 10,000 hours of experience, he confidently moved forward with his job until he visited a doctor and was diagnosed with depression, which made him grounded for a year. That’s when he found his way to mediation, and here is what he said: “I understood immediately that that’s what had been missing.” He meditated for twenty minutes a day, and after a month, his “anxiety level was almost to zero.”
Not only did he start flying again later, but he also became a certified mindfulness teacher. He started mindfulaviator.com, an online resource that demystifies meditation and makes it accessible to airline pilots. Try this resource or refer to one of the apps below to take care for your mental health.
Download a Beneficial Meditation App
Numerous apps available for both iOS and Android have proven effective for practicing meditation and have become popular among users. Here are our top three recommendations:
Headspace ($70 per year) presents a wide variety of choices with an excellent user interface and extensive, well-structured meditation content. The courses are easy to identify and follow, allowing you to progress gradually across multiple sessions. With this app, you can pinpoint the specific type of meditation you seek, enhancing the likelihood of maintaining your practice. Some courses equip you with tools for overall practice enhancement, while others focus on targeted solutions for issues like anxiety, patience, self-esteem, and grief, among others.
If meditation is already a part of your routine and you’re seeking features to enrich your practice, Calm ($70 per year) might cater to your needs better. Besides its guided sessions, Calm provides a range of exercises that allow for flexibility and customizable meditation timers. Additionally, it has a dedicated music segment. It keeps a record of your progress, including the count of completed sessions, and enables more frequent mood tracking over time compared to Headspace.
The Healthy Minds Program
It is a free, straightforward app that addresses four fundamental principles: Awareness, Connection, Insight, and Purpose. Its content is more user-friendly and purpose-oriented compared to other free apps. When you start using the app, it prompts you to complete a survey, generating scores for each of the four pillars. It is a starting point for your ongoing way towards a healthier self. You can choose a meditation ranging from 5 to 30 minutes in length, receive tips from the world’s leading scientists and meditation teachers, and conveniently track your progress.
Refer to a Pilot Peer Support Program
One more helpful method to deal with difficulties and not to be left alone is to refer to a Pilot Peer Support program.
According to EASA regulations, all European passenger airlines must already have one (also known as Peer Pilot Support Program or PPSP) in place since February 14th, 2021.
Your PILOT CAREER
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In simple terms, it is a program whereby a pilot can seek confidential help with mental health, well-being, post traumatic stress, or other issues from a volunteer pilot peer. The peers are usually fellow pilots thoroughly trained in listening and coaching skills to assist their colleagues. They are typically supported by a qualified Mental Health Professional, a clinical psychologist, who has professional experience in the aviation field.
If you are a pilot and seek an honest and transparent conversation with someone who understands what it’s like to be in your shoes, ask your airline about how to register your interest, as they are required by regulations to either run or outsource this program to ensure safe operations.
Pilot Peer Support Program at BAA Training
BAA Training has developed a Pilot Peer Support program and made it available to BAA Training students and instructors as well as KlasJet and Avion Express pilots (these companies are also a part of Avia Solutions Group, just like BAA Training).
Currently, we have several carefully hand-picked pilot peers who have done all the necessary training and are open to meeting those needing a talk. Whether it’s stress from demanding schedules, difficulties maintaining work-life balance, or anything else, the pilot peers will be there. Ruta Pleike, A320 Captain at Avion Express, is one of them.
We are glad to receive positive feedback from pilots who have used this pilot program and admit that with its help, they have managed to resolve their issues.
There is no doubt that pilots should take their mental health conditions seriously and make an effort to help themselves battle stress. Apart from meditation practices or Pilot Peer Support programs, it’s also advisable to do basic things like regulating sleep, eating well, building social relationships, dedicating time to hobbies, etc. All that will also keep you mentally fit and happy. So how about starting with the first click – installing a meditation-related app on your phone?