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A serious topic that never gets discussed

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#1 zippiesdrainage


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Posted 09 June 2017 - 12:52

Recently I lost a loved one (not a pilot) but it drew me to do a bit of research on a topic that doesn't get discussed enough. I'm not a psychologist or attempting to put anyone on the spot, but I feel in aviation we have to always be aware of our own skills and limitations. Men are much more likely to avoid discussing feelings or problems, and pilots are doubly reluctant to voice issues and it puts us all in a very small demographic of reluctance to discuss issues like depression or negative thoughts.


I found a video and relating article from CNN regarding depression that I thought would be a good starting off point to open discussions with you all. http://www.cnn.com/2...pressed-pilots/


It mentions in the article some of the first things that came to my mind "A pilot who was worried about depression would probably worry about losing their medical and never flying again." This article references a anonymous study where they found between 12-15% of pilots who completed the questionnaire have signs of depression while the national average is only 7%. It also notes that pilots who felt harassed or took sleep aid medication were significantly more likely to be depressed.

I have to admit, although I don't feel depressed, in EMS these are two major factors in the everyday life of an EMS pilot. Working nights and alternating shifts at bases where there is a desire to get more flights or meet a quota, paired with the concern of retaliation if a flight is turned down, puts many pilots in the danger zone.


In an industry where we have yearly medical exams to worry about, yearly recurrent training, checkrides, and having your flights evaluated by passengers, crewmembers or superiors can cause anxiety in even the most experienced pilot. (And as a civilian guy, I can only imagine what a military pilot has had to go through)




Secondly, I just want to throw this out there as well. It's not in the same vein of depression, but I think it's an important read and applies to more pilots than even they're aware of. Imposter Syndrome. That feeling that you're not really any good at your job and somehow you've simply fooled everyone. The self doubt that you only passed your checkrides because the examiner took pity on you, or you got the job even though your flight stunk or you feel like every good set-down was luck and after every bad landing you'll be caught for the fraud you are and fired. 


Psychologists believe that about 70% of all people have felt this way at some point in their lives, but there hasn't been much research on it since the 80s. It doesn't seem to go into any further detail as to a percentage of people who suffer with chronic Imposter Syndrome.  




I think the takeaway is to always try to understand and be sympathetic to your fellow aviators. I know it may sound corny, but the grumpy pilot or the nervous new guy may need a friend instead of counseling from management if they leave a gas cap off or forget to close a hangar door. And maybe if you feel like you don't deserve where you are, perhaps it'll help you to know most people feel the same way sometimes.


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"A mind that is stretched by a new experience, can never go back to its old dimensions"- Unknown

#2 SBuzzkill


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Posted 09 June 2017 - 13:43

That imposter syndrome is legit.  I've definitely felt like that, as well as the anxiety that comes every single year with the annual check rides and physicals. What sucks about the military is that your flying job also depends upon doing well in every other area of your life/work, and failing any of those will have you off the flight schedule and potentially out of the military.

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#3 r22butters


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Posted 09 June 2017 - 14:20

So you guys are depressed and insecure? Reminds me of the son of a friend of my mother's, who's an airline pilot and would have panic attacks in the cockpit!

I guess I got off easy just being anti-social :D
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The only dream I have left is to live long enough to see the pilot shortage. Its been about fifteen years since they first told me it was coming, so,...

Aaaaaaaany day now! :D

#4 Nearly Retired

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Posted 11 June 2017 - 10:05

Excellent post, Zippy!  We pilots don't like to talk about depression.  It's not macho.  We're supposed to be strong, level-headed, buoyant clear-thinking...oh wait, that's airplane pilots.  We're just supposed to be Tarzan-strong, I guess.  None of this sissy depression stuff for us!


I read about a pilot flying in Alaska once.  His son was killed in a car crash along a stretch of road this guy flew over every day.  And he admitted that every day he flew over the site he was overcome with a profound sense of sadness.  He made the mistake of saying that to the wrong person, and the FAA pulled his medical.  He had to fight to get it back.  So you think *I* am going to admit to anything like that?  Hell to the no.  


On the other hand, we pilots are good at compartmentalizing, and some of us (me) get so good at it that it seems like we've turned into unfeeling bastards.  Nothing bothers us - we never get emotional about anything. Inside I might be crying, but I'll never show it.  The only tears I show are tears of joy.   


Girlfriend:  "Fluffy..." (her cat of 19 years) "died today."

Me:  "Ohhh sweetie, that's too bad.  But you'll get another cat...a more durable cat this time maybe.  Oh look!  'Deadly Encounter' is playing on cable!  Get me a beer, willya?"


It's probably why I'm still single.


As for Imposter Syndrome, I think I suffer from the exact opposite.  I think all of *you* f*ckers are the imposters and I'm the only real pilot out here.


You know who probably has Imposter Syndrome big time?  That guy who calls himself Avbug.  


Can you imagine?  It's late at night...Avbug lies awake in bed in the dark next to his spouse.  He stares at the ceiling, unable to sleep.  He rolls on his side and softly says, "Hey man, what if they find out that I'm really a fraud...that I'm just an average mechanic who's only ever flown in the back of a 747 and not in the front?  What if they find out I'm not really a expert, knowitall firefighting pilot?"


And the other guy goes, "You mean THAT's what your worried about them finding out??  Look sweetie, it's almost ten o'clock.  If you're going to be prattling on and on about this, then I'm gonna get up and get a beer and watch the news."


I joke, of course.  But that's how we pilots handle stressful subjects.  But...in generality I try to not let things get to me.  I mean, none of us gets out of this life alive, so why get depressed about stuff?  On the other hand, I'm up in Washington for the summer and my motorcycle is back in Florida.  Now THAT is depressing!

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#5 Wally


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Posted 11 June 2017 - 10:48

I have sat in on pilot discussions where depression was discussed and NOBODY sought medical assistance due to potential medical certificate issues. I once heard a pilot flat state that he thought about flying the empty helicopter into the ground to end it all.
No intervention, nobody wanted to lose or be part of another pilot's loss of medical. All these pilots flew for years, decades dealing with this unaided. Of all the medical disqualifications, this is the most illogical. It exposes the public to even greater danger than treatment, even marginally successful treatment. Not just due to self-destructive thoughts, but depression impairs mentation and most who are untreated have no idea...
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Just a pilot (retired, so I have a LOT of time)...

#6 helonorth


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Posted 11 June 2017 - 13:54

I think the problem the FAA has with depression is not so much the diagnosis but the treatment. The drugs probably degrade your performance and judgement, most certainly with improper dosages. I'm pretty sure I know pilots that are being treated for depression but just don't mention it to the FAA. The FAA has to realize that there is a very small percentage of professional pilots (relative to the rest of the population) that report treatment or ground themselves due to taking disqualifying medications. This is probably the civilian version of "don't ask, don't tell." 

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#7 500F


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Posted 11 June 2017 - 17:17

I read a recent study from USC that claimed more than 80% of writer and scrrenplay directors showed signs of depression.

In todays world finding someone who has never felt that way is a rarity indeed.

Just like sleep apnea, there are many pilots with some level of mild depression that are not recieving treatment.

Im no psychiatrist, i cant even spell it. But I would think it would take a bit more than mild depression for someone to take a planeload of people with them to their death. Suicide is one thing. Mass murder is entirely different.
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