A study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows hundreds of pilots are suffering from depression.
The study, pubished in Environmental Health, found 233 (12.6%) of the 1848 responding airline pilots met criteria for likely depression. Of the 1430 pilots who reported working as an airline pilot in the last seven days at time of survey, 193 (13.5%) met these criteria. Seventy-five participants (4.1%) reported having thoughts of better being off dead or self-harm within the past two weeks.
A significant trend in proportions of depression was found at higher levels of use of sleep-aid medication and among those experiencing sexual harassment or verbal harassment.
The authors warn that the results have limited generalizability, but state that this study shows that there are a significant number of active pilots suffering from depressive symptoms. Future studies will evaluate additional predictors such as sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances.
The study was conducted in the wake of the accident of Germanwings flight 9525 which was caused by intentional actions by the aircraft’s first officer who was suffering from depression.
The authors made an international anonymous web-based survey, that was administered between April and December 2015. Pilots were recruited from unions, airline companies, and airports via convenience sampling. The objective of the study was to provide a more accurate description of mental health among commercial airline pilots underscoring symptoms related to depression using an anonymous survey to guard against fears of stigma and job discrimination. This study did not conduct clinical interviews of survey respondents to confirm diagnosis of depression, nor did it have access to medical records, according to the authors.