Research/studies Air Transportation

Commercial airline pilots are flying depressed, study finds


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Boston – More than 1 out of 8 commercial airline pilots meet the criteria for clinical depression, and a small percentage have suicidal thoughts, according to a study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is defined as at least two weeks of depressed mood or a loss of interest with at least four additional depressive symptoms.

Using an anonymous survey, researchers gathered data on 1,848 pilots from more than 50 countries between April and December 2015. Survey results showed that 233 pilots met the threshold for depression, and 75 had suicidal thoughts within the prior two weeks. In addition, 193 pilots who had worked seven days prior to filling out the survey (1,430 pilots total) met the criteria for depression.

The findings underscore the need to accurately assess pilots’ mental health and support programs that offer preventive treatment, researchers said, adding that many pilots might not report their depression because of social stigma and the fear of negative career impacts.

“There is a veil of secrecy around mental health issues in the cockpit,” Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard and senior author of the study, said in a press release.

The study was published online Dec. 14 in the journal Environmental Health.

In 2015, a 27-year-old Germanwings co-pilot who suffered from clinical depression intentionally crashed a plane into the French Alps, killing 150 people.

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