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What should I know about depression in pilots?

Depression is an affliction many people in New York deal with, and unfortunately, airline pilots are no exception. A 2016 article in the Los Angeles Times cited research that found that 13 percent of the commercial airline pilots in the United States are possibly suffering from a state of depression, with about 1 in 25 pilots having reported suicidal thoughts. Although the L.A. Times emphasizes that airplane flights remain a safe mode of transportation, nonetheless the problem of depressed pilots does create the potential for airplane accidents.

The L.A. Times pieces identifies special burdens that pilots carry in addition to the normal problems a person may experience in everyday life. Unlike an individual who works a normal nine to five job, a pilot works schedules that shift around, creating an irregular work schedule. The hours may also be long. The combination of long hours and shifting schedules can result in irregular sleep patterns. All of these factors can contribute to depression.

Additionally, the long hours a pilot puts into flying airplanes can keep the pilot away from home. While many people have jobs that take them away from home, pilots also have the added problem of not knowing exactly when they will be away from home. The life of a pilot can additionally include delayed or rescheduled flights, which can increase the unpredictability. The effect of being away from home in this manner can be emotionally taxing.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounds pilots who suffer from depression, some airplane accidents are still caused by depressed pilots. According to investigations after the fact and some research on the matter, these depressed pilots typically were refusing to seek treatment for their depression or they were ingesting antidepressant medication but did not report these facts to the proper medical aviation authorities, who might have grounded them if their conditions were known.

Commercial airlines do have their own programs in place to help depressed pilots, but they remain a patchwork arrangement of policies, and some airline pilots do not feel confident to report their condition for fear of being grounded or of experiencing damage to their careers. With the increasing awareness of this problem, research into depressed pilots is likely to continue.

In the event you or a loved one experience injury due to a pilot who is not emotionally balanced, know that an airline can be held liable for damages. You may want to learn about the airline's anti-depression program, to see if it was applied in this case to the pilot. But since airplane accidents can vary so widely, do not consider this article to be legal advice. Read it only for general information.

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