In the wake of the 2015 Germanwings tragedy there has been huge media interest in the topic of pilot mental health. It’s a topic BALPA takes seriously and is working to address.
BALPA understands the need to ensure those suffering mental health issues, who are in safety critical jobs, must be identified, given support and monitored to ensure they do not pose a safety risk. This need has been emphasised throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Mental health problems are often treatable and should not be seen as a bar on becoming or remaining a pilot.
Pilots believe the biggest problem is the stigma attached to mental health problems. The aviation industry needs to bring these issues out in to the open so those who are suffering are not driven underground. We believe that with the correct monitoring, support and treatment people who have suffered mental health issues like stress and depression can often return to work.
Evidence shows that support is the best way to identify and treat those with mental health issues. BALPA will continue its work to support the implementation of peer support programmes that break down stigma and prevent mental health issues being pushed underground.
Such programmes already exist in many companies across Europe and are now required as part of UK and European legislation. They have proven to be very successful to identify pilots in need of professional help, to treat them and, where possible, to guide them back to the flight deck.
BALPA feels these programmes could be extended to cover a greater range of mental health issues, to be able to provide help to those who go through difficult times.
Pilots undergo regular health checks, which include a mental health element and there is scope to improve how this is covered.
However, there is concern that greater reliance on evaluation of all pilots at the start of their careers may not be effective in identifying those who pose the most serious risks and may fail to help those who face problems later in their careers.