Commercial airline pilots could have “similar or potentially increased risks” of experiencing depression, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology.
The research was a systematic review of 20 prior studies related to depression, suicide, substance abuse, and fatigue in commercial pilots.
The researchers found that the prevalence of depression in pilots ranged from 1.9 to 12.6%, while the prevalence of suicidal ideation was around 4%.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 6.7% of the U.S. population experiences depression.
Pilots also experienced high levels of fatigue, which was associated with higher rates of feeling depressed.
“These figures oppose previous beliefs that the mental health of commercial airline pilots is better than the general population,” the study states.
“This also implies that potentially hundreds of active pilots currently flying may be experiencing unreported mental health disorders, including suicidal ideation.”
Toxicology reports from aviation accidents also revealed that some pilots had antidepressant medication in their system. Of these 61 pilots, 88% had not disclosed their psychiatric condition and 95% had never reported the use of antidepressants.
The researchers noted that the study has some limitations. In particular, the past research utilized cross-sectional rather than longitudinal designs and had relatively small sample sizes.
“From this review, the paucity in high quality research in mental health within commercial aviation is clear,” the researchers said.
The article, “Reflecting on the Germanwings Disaster: A Systematic Review of Depression and Suicide in Commercial Airline Pilots“, was authored by Terouz Pasha and Paul R. A. Stokes.