16 December 2016
Although findings from an international study that found 12.6 per cent of pilots met the criteria for depression, in line with other high-stress jobs around the world, this issue must be talked about and dealt with, the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) said today.
The anonymous survey conducted by Harvard University’s Professor Joseph Allen received responses from 3500 pilots. The survey can be found at https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/airline-pilots-depression/
“When you consider the pressures of the job and work practises, fatigue and then the family pressures around flying, it’s no surprise pilots feel the stress and strain of the profession,” working pilot and NZALPA Medical and Welfare Director Herwin Bongers said.
“But it’s not any different to the needs of others in high-stress professions.”
New Zealand pilots have long depended on medical screening and self reporting but NZALPA, the membership organisation that represents more than 2300 pilots and air traffic controllers, has also introduced a Peer Assistance Network (PAN) and Peer Assistance Training for its members.
In November this year, pilots gathered for a Peer Assistance Network Training Course for Peer Support Volunteers (PSVs). Training is ongoing and more pilots are opting to become PSVs as awareness grows.
“Aside from regular psychometric testing and vigorous medical protocols, we’ve identified that the first port-of-call seems to be fellow pilots,” Bongers said.
“We’ve established a highly trained network of peers who regularly act as a ‘safe harbour’ for their colleagues – they’re people they can speak to who understand the pressures.”
Jetconnect is the PAN programme’s first financial stakeholder airline, while meetings to identify other key stakeholders for the scheme are ongoing.
Unlike overseas, it’s required by law for medical professionals in New Zealand to report any knowledge of something that might deem a pilot unfit to fly.
“Mental health issues are a normal part of society, but elevated levels are found in high-stress jobs,” Bongers said. “But by encouraging honest reporting to become common practice and making it safe for our pilots to announce any issues, we’ll make a lot of progress.
“At the moment, the information is disseminating at a grassroots level. However, the more we support our colleagues and prominent people talk about mental health, the easier it will be for professionals to report.”
“We’ve also ensured pilots who do report are well taken care of and given good wrap-around insurance that protects their income, can offer them meaningful work in other roles, and provide them with the appropriate recovery and supervision.”
“The focus always needs to remain on the person going through recovery and on positive outcomes, as what’s good for pilots is safe for the travelling public,” Bongers said.
Radio New Zealand