Pilots Suffer Depression, Suicidal Thoughts at Fairly High Rates

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For the first time, an anonymous study reported on depression and suicidal thoughts among commercial airline pilots.
For the first time, an anonymous study reported on depression and suicidal thoughts among commercial airline pilots.

HealthDay News — More than one-tenth of professional airline pilots may suffer from depression, according to research published online Dec. 15 in Environmental Health.

In the online survey, conducted between April and December of 2015, the researchers asked 1837 pilots in the United States, Canada, and Australia about their mental health. The findings showed that 12.6% of the pilots met the criteria for likely depression and 4% reported having suicidal thoughts within the previous 2 weeks.

Male pilots were more likely than female pilots to report that they had instances "nearly every day" of loss of interest, feeling like a failure, difficulty concentrating, and thinking they would be better off dead. Meanwhile, compared with male pilots, female pilots were more likely to have had at least one day of poor mental health in the previous month, and were more likely to have been diagnosed with depression, according to the researchers. In addition, depression was more common among pilots who used more sleep aid medications and those who were subjected to sexual or verbal harassment.

"Our study hints at the prevalence of depression among pilots — a group of professionals that is responsible for thousands of lives every day — and underscores the importance of accurately assessing pilots' mental health and increasing support for preventative treatment," first author Alex Wu, a doctoral student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, said in a Harvard news release.

Reference

Wu A, Donnelly-McLay, Weisskopf MG, McNeely E, et al. Airplane pilot mental health and suicidal thoughts: a cross-sectional descriptive study via anonymous web-based surveyEnvironmental Health. 2016; doi:10.1186/s12940-016-0200-6

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