Experts: Screening Programs To Detect Mental Illness In Pilots Found Wanting

On its front page, the New York Times (3/29, A1, Goode, Mouawad, Subscription Publication) reported in continuing coverage that last week’s crash of Germanwings Fight 9525 raises the question of whether or not “regulators are doing enough to detect pilots who are too mentally ill to fly.” Current programs in use “by airlines and regulators on either side of the Atlantic, aviation experts and psychiatrists said, leave much to be desired.” Yearly screening examinations “often merely nod to mental health issues, including only a few questions about depression or other illnesses,” and quite often, such “exams are often conducted by general practitioners with no psychiatric expertise.” The programs also rely on pilots to voluntarily report any problems they are experiencing, and pilots will conceal problems from their airline for fear of stigma or not being allowed to fly. Yearly screenings may fail to detect stress placed on a pilot who has undergone a major life stressor, such as relationship or financial problems.

The Washington Post (3/27, Keating) “Wonkblog” reported that the “relatively new National Violent Death Reporting System [NVDRS] maintained by the” CDC reveals that “more than three-quarters of murder suicides involve a crisis within two weeks of the incident, and more than 70 percent of cases involve problems with intimate partners.” Those two factors “are by far the most closely associated experience with murder suicide.”

Bloomberg News (3/28, Tozzi) reported that even outside the airline industry, employees as well as employers “have incentives to keep discussions of mental health out of the workplace.” Managers are afraid that “learning about an employee’s depression, for example, could open the door to discrimination suits if the employee is later disciplined,” while “workers fear being ostracized, held back from promotions, and even fired.”

Related Links:

— “Germanwings Crash Raises Questions About Shifting Ideas of Pilot Fitness,” Erica Goode and Jad Mouawad, New York Times, March 28, 2015.

Posted in In The News.