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Pilot mental health: how peer support can help

by Dr Rob Hunter BALPA Head of Flight Safety

Mental health and the way we deal with it is improving every day. As more industries show support for their workers’ mental health, through new programmes and better access to support, we want to make sure aviation is no different, and pilots also feel their mental health is a priority. Fatiguing duties and the general nature of the role can put extra pressure on pilots’ wellbeing so it’s important to recognise when you need support and know where you can go to for help. On World Mental Health Day we would like to provide a quick reminder of the peer support services available to pilots.
What help is available to pilots?
BALPA has already worked with many UK airlines to get peer support programmes up and running to give pilots access to support without the fear of repercussions simply for speaking up. To date, more than 75% of the UK pilot population has access to a well-run peer support programme – and we should be proud of this. These programmes are the first in the world to be specifically designed to address mental health issues among pilots by using website technology. It means that if pilots in those airlines feel they need to talk, they will now be able to find – via a dedicated website – a pilot colleague to whom they can speak in confidence. These peer support volunteers have been trained to listen and, if necessary, to point pilots to where they can get further help. Peer support is not an emergency service, but it can be the point where a pilot takes responsibility for his or her own welfare and starts the journey back to a more balanced approach to life and work.
The volunteer peers are ordinary line pilots, not trainers, management pilots or even union representatives. The message here is that you will talk to someone who ‘gets it’. The intent is to raise the profile of pilot mental health and wellbeing in our communities and remove any stigmas that may be perceived. Colleagues should feel free to be able to raise concerns about fellow pilots, not in a ‘snitching’ manner, but recognising we are all one community and that we look out for one another. It should be noted that programmes sit independently from flight operations management structures, are totally confidential, and are backed by BALPA on that basis. If you’re unsure of how to access the programme in your airline, you can speak to a member of your CC or get in touch with us here at BALPA.
Remember, you can also speak to your GP or AME if you have concerns about how mental health issues might be having an impact on your work or home life.