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Is Being an Airline Pilot a Stressful Job?

Updated: Apr 14, 2017

After a Germanwings co-pilot deliberately flew an Airbus A320-211 into the French Alps in March 2015, investigators found out that 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz had been struggling with depression. In fact, Lubitz had been treated for suicidal tendencies and had been declared "unfit to work" by a doctor. The catastrophe was a wake-up call for the industry, and in its wake came a mental health survey of commercial airline pilots around the world. Of the 1,848 pilots who responded to the anonymous survey in 2015, 12.6 percent met the threshold for depression, and 4.1 percent reported having suicidal thoughts during the two weeks before taking the survey. If the results are accurate, the incidence of depression among pilots would be nearly double the national U.S. rate of about 7 percent.

This is your captain speaking:

  • The study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health, asked pilots if they felt like failures, had trouble falling or staying asleep, or felt they were better off dead -- questions from a depression-screening tool called PHQ-9.
  • Researchers found that pilots who were depressed were also more likely to take sleep aids and report verbal or sexual harassment.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration allows pilots with mild-to-moderate depression to continue flying if they have been taking one of four approved antidepressants for 12 months with satisfactory results.
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