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Why Preventive Healthcare Matters for High-Risk Professions

Appropriate screening for mental health status is important for all types of high performance and high risk jobs, such as first responders, machine operators, pilots, and the military. 

Recently, an off duty Alaska Airlines pilot allegedly tried to crash a plane mid-flight. According to news reports, the 44 year old pilot stated he “became depressed about six months” prior to the incident.

It was astoundiing to learn that the FAA’s regulations require an aviation medical exam that ranges from every six months to five years, depending on their age and the type of flying they do. Pilots 40 and under are seen every 12 months. “Older” pilots are seen every six months. Which raises the question: 

How often are pilots screened from age 41 until they become “older”? And when was this 44 year old pilot’s last medical exam?

In addition to these medical exams, the FAA also relies heavily on pilot self-disclosure and busy gate and flight attendants to identify co-workers who appear to be struggling with a mental health condition. 

The FAA’s mental health standards that exclude a pilot’s medical certificate include:

  • Bipolar, personality disorders, or psychosis

  • Mental illnesses that interfere with their ability to perform their job safely. 

  • Substance abuse within the past two years, unless they show they're in recovery.  

Infrequent screenings that ignore prevention, are hit-or-miss solutions, at best. 

  • Reactive rather than preventive

  • Rely on pilot self-disclosure

  • Depend on untrained employees 

Since the near crash last month in the news,  the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been creating a Pilot Mental Health Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to look more closely at the mental health needs of their pilots. Their priority is to encourage and provide opportunities for their pilots to disclose their mental illness. However, in a University of North Dakota study, more than half the pilots reported hiding or minimizing their mental illnesses, or avoiding help due to stigma, potential lost wages, or fear of losing their jobs. 

Although self-identification and self-disclosure are important steps to getting needed help, that alone is unlikely to provide early intervention or prevention.  What’s also needed is:

  • routine screenings by trained people to assess potential or emerging problems

  • precision instruments for early identification and risk detection 

  • prevention education and support 

  • resilience training

  • regular check ins to review progress and status

Compris can add routine mental health screenings for high performance, high risk jobs to help pilots avoid onset of behavioral health problems, or get them to the help they need to stay in the cockpit, or get back to work sooner. 

Keeping people mentally healthy who we trust to keep us safe, is more than common sense. It’s a critical imperative for saving as many lives as possible. 

As the year comes to a close, the holidays bring more travel plans, including flying.  If you’re a leader in a safety-critical industry or organization interested in learning more to help your people, talk to me on Linkedin or schedule a demo.

Stay safe and healthy!

Joyce and Calvin McGinn


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