Studies reveal pilots fear being grounded over mental health stigma
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New studies have come to light showing that upwards of 70% of pilots avoid and fear seeking mental-health assistance. For a pilot, seeking assistance might impact their jobs and ability to fly.
Fox News’ Charles Watson shared more on these recent studies on Sunday afternoon’s “Fox News Live.”
“Certainly a troubling trend, one in which researchers say pilots are often ignoring their health, particularly mental health symptoms, because they’re so terrified of losing their ability to fly,” he told host Arthel Neville.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots must meet medical standards, undergo a medical exam and receive certification in order to be licensed as a pilot. This must be completed through an FAA-certified Aviation Medical examiner (AME).
As the studies and Watson explained, pilots fear revealing mental health as it can hinder their chances to fly and could be a lengthy process to regain certification.
“Once the pilot loses their wings, they could be sidelined for years and saddled with expenses to get approval again,” Watson explained.
Fox News spoke to one FAA Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) who shared his insight on the matter.
“All stakeholders stand to gain by working on healthcare avoidance. For pilots, this is about getting the health care that they need. For airlines and companies, this is about cost savings and maintaining aviation safety, and for regulators, this is about ensuring that the aerospace system is safe.”
The AME also shared that, “many pilots don’t know that you can see a therapist and still fly.” He continued. “Many pilots don’t know that you can be on an SSRI [Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors] and still fly.”
In addition to the Aviation Medical Examiner, Fox also discussed the topic with retired airline Captain Reyne O’Shaughnessy.
“Chronic stress, anxiety, depression, use and abuse of alcohol and in some cases, drugs… They are struggling because we are human and we’re struggling and because of the system that we work in, it is really difficult to reach out for help.”
“I think the real issue is how fast. In the meantime, safety is a concern because we have pilots who are self-medicating or not medicating at all,” the retired captain added.
Pilot mental health is not a new issue for the Federal Aviation Administration, which has taken measures to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in the aviation community.
The agency encourages pilots to seek help if they have a condition and have invested resources into the matter, such as increased training for AMEs, clinical studies, research, and the hiring of additional mental health professionals.
In 2021, then FAA Administrator Steve Dickson made remarks on the stigma at the University of North Dakota Mental Health Summit.
“For many years, being honest about mental health has been one of those risky areas. I’m here to tell you that it’s a perceived risk, though, and we’re doing our best at the FAA to make that clear.”
He went on to address pilot concerns over their ability to fly if a mental health issue was reported.
“It is a misconception that if you report a mental health issue, you will never fly again … It’s just not true.”
“In fact, only about 0.1% of applicants for a medical certificate who disclose health issues are ultimately denied a medical, and then only after an exhaustive attempt to “get to yes,” he added.
“The important thing to stress to our pilots is to please ask for help when any symptoms begin, and to treat the underlying conditions before your health degrades. The worse these conditions become, the harder it is for us to get you back in the air,” said Dickson.