No Confidentiality—Mental Health Screening for Pilots is Ineffective

No Confidentiality—Mental Health Screening for Pilots is Ineffective

By Zachary Siegel 04/02/15

If a pilot reports mental health issues his or her career is in jeopardy. 

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In light of the recent Germanwings Flight 9525 tragedy, where co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is suspected of deliberately crashing an airplane with 150 people onboard into the French Alps, mental health screenings for pilots around the world has come into question. Many are saying the system in place is inadequate

French daily newspaper, Le Parisen, has published numerous unconfirmed reports that Lubitz suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and received injections for anti-psychotic drugs in 2010. 

The 27-year-old co-pilot is said to have passed his annual recertification medical examination in the summer of 2014. An official with Lufthansa Airline said, however, that the exam only tests for physical health, not psychological health. Reports from pilots and safety experts have confirmed that despite regular medical exams, doctors are not effectively probing for psychological disorders. 

Pilots from major airlines have said that as long as one can hold a “reasonable conversation” during an examination, there is little cause for him or her to be psychologically evaluated. Other seasoned pilots with decades of flying under their belts have said that professionals have never asked them about mental health issues. 

Another issue is that there is no confidential reporting. Asking a person who is suffering mentally if they have psychiatric issues is not enough, says John Gadzinski, a former navy pilot who now works with a large U.S airline. He also noted that it’s not in a pilot’s interest to report mental health problems to a flight surgeon, as it would go straight to the Federal Aviation Administration thereby rendering him or her unable to fly.  

The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations pointed out that some airlines offer pilot-to-pilot counseling programs, however, confidentiality may be annulled if safety is deemed a risk. Pilots are speaking out asking for a culture of compassion, where if mental health is a concern, it’s okay for the pilot to come forward and ask for help without risking his or her career. 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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