People Think Mental Health is a Delicate Subject, according to the polls.

People Think Mental Health is a Delicate Subject, according to the polls.

The demands of the profession, including long hours, irregular schedules, and high levels of responsibility, including having the lives of hundreds of passengers in their care, can create significant stress. Pilots are also subject to strict regulatory standards, including those related to mental health.

With these factors contributing to the mental health challenges pilots face, why do those in this profession often find this a sensitive subject?

For professionals like Agne Novikiene, Aviation Psychologist at Avion Express, she explains that her job involves not only selecting the right people for pilot training but also helping airborne personnel open up about their challenges at work. She goes on to explain this conundrum.

Secretive About Struggles

Pilots are the face of aviation, but stress can dim the glamor of their job. After all, it is their responsibility to get everyone on the plane safely to their destination. However, pilots can be tight-lipped about the anxieties they face.

“When you talk about mental health with pilots, they all nod their heads and agree that it’s important and that they, just like the rest of us, can face psychological difficulties.”

“But because it’s a topic closely related to a pilot’s ability to exercise their license, it’s challenging for them to talk about their struggles.”

When a person struggles to acknowledge vulnerability, the situation merits a sensitive approach. Here, simple questions work best in such cases.

“I approach stressed pilots from a place of genuine interest. If I see that a person is emotional or concerned about something, I simply try to ask about it. You can’t go about trying to trick people into opening up, but rather gently lead them there.”

Cabin crew tends to be more open about their struggles than pilots. But in their client-facing work, passengers can become an additional source of stress.

“Passengers can sometimes be a difficult crowd to manage. It gets particularly tense in case of emergencies, when they must calmly deal with very stressful situations, and help others do the same.”

Constant Training Builds Confidence

A profession with no room for error seems a very stressful line of work. Yet when asked about on-the-job stress, experienced pilots can give surprising answers.

“The majority of experienced pilots I speak to would say that their job is not particularly stressful. Their profession is quite unique because it involves constant training, and I believe that builds better confidence at work.”

No matter how many thousands of flight hours pilots have, aviation safety requirements mandate that they prove their knowledge and skills every year. Yearly training involves simulator practice for emergency situations, technical testing to ensure a high level of technical proficiency, and crew resource management training, among other tests. Plus, depending on the type of flying they do and their age, pilots need to undergo medical and mental fitness tests.

Pilots train consistently and rigorously, so certain things that seem very stressful to passengers are not for the pilots.

“For instance, engine failure. Many pilots would say that it’s a totally manageable situation. If the other engine works, you can still fly, so all is good.”

Although the flying portion of the job might not make it too stressful, the lifestyle of aviation professionals can be somewhat challenging overall. These careers require extended periods away from home and loved ones, and many time zone changes during the day.

It is important to understand that being a pilot or a cabin crew member means building your life around your job and sometimes aspiring pilots forget this.

“If we look at the information that’s out there about aviation careers, especially piloting, it’s mainly about how exciting it is and very little about how challenging. The fact is that working in aviation, you often must adapt your life to the roster and miss spending the holidays with your family. During one recent interview, a pilot told me that he’s been celebrating his birthday alone in his hotel room for many, many years now. So, this lifestyle can feel quite lonely at times.”

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