June 20, 2024

While NBAA and others welcome the FAA’s recent industry-recommended actions on mental health, experts say there’s a long way to go on an issue affecting a large number of aviation professionals during their lifetime.

The topic was in focus at NBAA’s White Plains Regional Forum held June 12.

“Mental health is an issue that each of us will be affected by at some time in our lives, Dr, Quay Snyder, co-founder of Aviation Medicine Advisory Service, said during a panel discussion at the recent NBAA White Plains Regional Forum. “It’s been the elephant in the room that we haven’t talked about for a long time.”

Snyder said issues such as sleep disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more can have an adverse role in one’s personal and professional life, and in the case of aviation – safety. As many as 20% of the U.S. population each year receives a mental health diagnosis that needs treatment.

In April, the Mental Health & Aviation Medical Clearances Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) released 24 recommendations to the FAA and aviation stakeholders designed to change the industry’s culture around mental health, look at reasons why professionals may not seek help and work to make changes. Review the NBAA press release on the Mental Health & Aviation Medical Clearances ARC report.

Among the recommendations were:

  • Create a non-punitive pathway for disclosing mental health conditions and treatments.
  • Revise and evaluate the requirements for reporting and certification/qualification of psychotherapy (talk therapy), depression/anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Ensure aeromedical screening protocols and requirements are based on safety management system principles and appropriately communicated to applicants.
  • Expand the use and promotion of peer support programs.
  • Develop mental health literacy, education and awareness campaigns.
  • Increase mental health training and improve quality assurance for aviation medical examiners.
  • Modernize the FAA’s information management system/Aviation Medical Certification Subsystem.

Since the ARC released its recommendations there have been some changes by the agency, including updates to the FAA Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) Guide regarding PTSD and other mental-health issues. Other changes include new antidepressant medications added to the list of those conditionally acceptable.

The Next Generation

Laila Stein, a graduate of Western Michigan University who serves as a safety intern at NBAA, said while in school she was part of a team that did research into mental health and aviation and noted her generation looks at the issue differently than older generations.

“We talk about and recognize the importance of mental health, not only in our personal, but in our professional lives,” she said, adding it’s important to let pilots and others know it’s OK not to be OK.

“About 85% of mental health issues that people are struggling with can be resolved purely by speaking with a peer. It’s extremely effective.”

Dr, Quay Snyder Co-Founder, Aviation Medicine Advisory Service

Snyder noted that peer-support programs can often offer some of the best assistance to those in need. “About 85% of mental health issues that people are struggling with can be resolved purely by speaking with a peer,” he said. “It’s extremely effective.”

However, Snyder noted, while airlines have had the resources to this, it’s been more of a struggle for the business aviation community.

NBAA Director, Safety and Flight Operations Mark Larsen said its harder in business aviation since most of the association’s membership, for example, operates one to two aircraft. Aggregating resources is key, he added, and the NBAA Safety Committee is working to compile information.

Stein added it’s not just those in the industry that need resources, but students as well. The university of North Dakota, for example, has implemented a peer support program, and she’s hoping other schools will follow their lead.

Snyder also acknowledged AMEs need better training on mental health and streamline processes will make advances that will help safety, he said.

If everyone works together, Snyder noted, “State of mind can change.”

Look for another NBAA Flight Plan podcast on the issue of mental health in the coming weeks.