Hundreds of commercial airline pilots fly with untreated depression for fear of losing their jobs, says Harvard study

Rebecca Smith
The report said there was a
The report said there was a "veil of secrecy" over mental health issues in the cockpit (Source: Getty)

Hundreds of commercial pilots may be flying with untreated depression as many fear losing their jobs, according to a new study.

A landmark Airline Pilot Health Study, designed to characterise the health and well-being of pilots around the world, has found that hundreds of commercial airline pilots worldwide may be flying with clinical depression untreated.

The anonymous survey of pilots from more than 50 countries found that 12.6 per cent of pilots met the depression threshold and 4.1 per cent (75 pilots) had suicidal thoughts. Around 3,500 responded to the survey, with 1,848 completing the questions about mental health.

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Around 350m people around the world have depression. Roughly 140,000 pilots fly around three billion people worldwide each year.

"Hundreds of pilots currently flying are managing depression, even suicidal thoughts, without the possibility of treatment due to the fear of negative career impacts," the researchers said in a paper in the Environmental Health journal.

Pilots diagnosed with acute depression will be deemed unable to fly, but the paper warns some cover up their symptoms for fear of losing their jobs and there was a "veil of secrecy" around mental health problems in the profession.

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The study began last year after Andreas Lubitz, a co-pilot of a Germanwings plane deliberately flew it into a mountain killing 149 people last year. It emerged that he was depressed, had received treatment for suicidal tendencies and was declared unfit to work by his doctor. However, strict Germany confidentiality rules prevented the information from being shared with the airline.

The study noted that: "Airplane pilots are relied on to safely transport both passenger and cargo. Their health, well-being and functionality are paramount when considering these responsibilities."

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