Risks of Mental Health in Aviation

In a high-pressure stressful job such as aviation, the obvious focus of concern is on pilots and aircrew where mistakes are costly and the demands of the job can be taxing from long hours, lack of sleep and managing hundreds of passengers. The events of the Germanwings flight (2015) are testament to recognising mental health and its effects.


Mental Health affects us all

1 in 4 in the UK suffer mental health issues[1]

1 in 6 report experiencing a common mental health issue in any week[2]


But the stresses of the job stretch far beyond the top level jobs as we found in our own research into mental health in construction. It’s not just the pilots, in fact, it’s everyone, so the health and wellbeing of the engineering employees are equally important to the safety of commercial aircraft.   

Long hours, and isolated working times can be unhealthy without adequate support. And the stigma of talking about mental health still prevents employees from speaking out or being open with employers. A short period of stress can be good to boost focus and generate a buzz of energy, but prolonged periods can go unnoticed and cause serious health concerns.

For most workers on contracts the effects of mental health can reveal themselves in the form of general depression and anxiety. Starting a new job in a new country or area, away from family and friends can be daunting and challenging. Not only operationally but also psychologically and so support is required to help employees going through this transition.

As an engineer, mechanic, manufacturer or logistical operationalist you can equally be affected by the same mental health issues as everyone else. Despite the news coverage of the Germanwings travesty, every individual in the aviation industry can be affected by the same mental health issues highlighted and need to speak up before serious health problems arise.


The Stigma in Aviation

So why don’t we talk about it, or do more about it? A lot of this comes down to perception, how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves.

In the world of Aviation, the stigma around talking about or admitting to having mental health concersn raise the red flags of possible grounding, costs and time of possible treatment or help, loss of income and fear of losing jobs. These are conderable factors and are part of a larger movement to shift the conversation away from discrimination and towards congregation, helping each other; helping ourselves.


World Health Report 2001 (WHO)

In the WHO report, they class mental health as a global disease marking it as 12% of the global burden, this was expected to rise to 15% by 2020. In this report 121 million people were suffering with depression, revealing 25% of the total population would develop one or more mental or behavioural disorders in their lifetime. In April 2016 350 million were affected by depression, a concerning trend.


What can and should employers do?

The 2018 report by Prospect highlighted three key figures:

36% were subject to personal harassment

28% acknowledged friction and anger between colleagues

And nearly 40% of people were often or always unable to take breaks.

So what can be done?



Trust begins at the top, employees need to be aware that they can go to someone for support. The globe as a whole need to be aware of the situation, the potential risks of ignoring mental health, and that there is help out there.



Information much like this article need to be made public to everyone, sharing how and why mental health is important and providing the training to be able to deal and adapt the mental health concerns. The German Wings flight was a wake up call to the industry, and an important moment of change.



Networks for information, emotional and physical support need to be implemented into the core of businesses. Providing the facilities for meetings and counselling where required is an important step to addressing potential issues before they become a news headline.

If you implement this acronym of S.E.A, seeing mental health problems before they become a reality could prevent a much larger issue.


[1] McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.

[2] McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014. Leeds: NHS digital.