The growing issue of mental wellbeing within aviation

Mental health is almost seen as a ‘dirty word’ – to be avoided and not mentioned if at all possible. Certainly for pilots, the possibility of admitting that their mental state is less than perfect could lead to fear of losing their licence and consequently be a disincentive to acknowledging that they might have difficulties. Yet mental health is something that is present in all people, all of the time. All individuals operate on a wellness spectrum from ‘OK’ to ‘not OK’ but it is only when one moves to ‘not OK’ that mental health is talked about. Perhaps it is time to talk about mental wellbeing instead, with a focus on how we keep people in this positive state?

There have been multiple aviation-specific papers and guidelines in the wake of the Germanwings tragedy, addressing mental health by risk assessing psychological traits at key career points – recruitment, employer change or command upgrade, but as Symbiotics Principal Occupational Psychologist, Karen Moore, says “These are useful, but will not achieve the objective of identifying crew who are at risk of breakdown episodes. They also don’t cover the other teams associated within the safe running of an airline – the cabin attendants, engineers or baggage handlers for example. The potential outcomes of action from a member of one of these populations putting an aircraft at risk are no less significant than the actions of the flight crew.”

Statistics from the mental health Charity, Mind suggest that globally 1 in 4 adults will experience at least one mental health condition in any one year, and that at any particular time 1 in 6 adults are experiencing a mental health condition; that is around 450 million people globally. 

So how does this transfer to the aviation and aerospace sector?

Given the accepted incidence figures and FAA pilot recruitment statistics, this means that approximately 114,000 pilots could be experiencing a mental health condition at this moment. And that’s just pilots. What about other people in the sector, such as baggage handlers and Air Traffic Managers, who have many of the similar stressors in their work – odd working patterns, difficult working conditions, long hours and experiencing jet lag.

Outside of the work situation, these roles place demands on everyday life and relationships – disrupted and unsociable sleep patterns, and often not being around for key family events. These are all in addition to the normal everyday challenges we all experience, such as illness, bereavement and relationship difficulties. Maintaining mental wellbeing within these difficult situations can be a challenge.

Symbiotics are delighted to announce that, alongside their ADAPT suite of industry-leading selection tools, they are working with MHS Assessments in their use of MindQ, the clinically validated mental wellbeing risk assessment. Symbiotics work with global aviation businesses and airlines to address this missing link and to provide the assessments and understanding to help mitigate this risk. By identifying who is at risk of potential mental health conditions this allows them to be directed to the appropriate resources and support, to improve their mental wellbeing.

Principal Occupational Psychologist at Symbiotics, Karen Moore, will be speaking on this subject at AAETS which will certainly be an insightful seminar to attend. If you want to find out more around MindQ or Symbiotics then Karen and the team would be happy to discuss this with you further.

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