October 10 is World Mental Health Day and, according to the World Health Organization, it is a day to “re-energize our efforts and improve mental health”. Let’s see how US airlines are helping employees manage their mental health.
mental health management
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, mental health has been at the forefront of many conversations. The pandemic has forced people around the world to stay cooped up inside homes and cut off many social interactions, increasing rates of depression and suicide. As a result, companies have started including their mental health policies and coverage in job postings.
Flight attendants have faced immense battles when it comes to their mental health, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Delta Airlines
The United Airlines website doesn’t mention anything about mental health, but United provided Simple Flying with a statement saying:
“Our employee benefits package has several resources to support employee mental well-being, including access to emotional support, counseling and behavioral health professionals.”
Simple Flying spoke to a United Airlines staff member who said he didn’t think his employer cared about his mental health. This is their response when asked if they thought their employer cared,
“…not really. I mean they work us pretty hard, and I’ve never been offered time off to recover or even just a second to breathe…They want you to go all the time .”
Delta Air Lines’ website explicitly states that it gives its employees access to “extensive resources supporting mental health.”
“Delta believes that supporting the entire employee through physical, mental, social and financial well-being is our privilege and responsibility throughout the year. That’s why we provide a number of services under each of our four wellness pillars – and why earlier this year Delta introduced unprecedented mental health resources, including 12 free therapy sessions per problem and per year, for each employee and member of their household.”
Delta not only paid for counseling sessions for its employees and family members, it also provided onsite support at most of its hubs.
“In addition, mental health coaches are located in most of our main centers to offer immediate support to employees. Meanwhile, our on-staff mental health doctor continues to engage directly with employees to de-stigmatize health mindset and create meaningful programs and resources that are easy to access both on-site and online.”
American Airlines lists wellness programs for the physical, financial, and emotional well-being of its employees, but does not explicitly state what the airline offers in terms of mental health. Simple Flying spoke with an American Airlines pilot who shed some light on the predicament that many pilots face.
Southwest Airlines told Simple Flying that it invests in the well-being of its employees in part through the Clear Skies Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which offers assistance through advice and specialized services. This benefit is available to employees from day one of employment.
Simple Flying contacted other airline employees for statements but did not receive a response. Throughout the pandemic, flight attendants have been all over social media sharing some of their mental health issues with airlines, with many saying their mental health is not a concern for employers. The statements above sound good on paper, but how much are the airlines actually helping? Some even believe that the reason employees end up needing therapy is because of the way they are treated by the airlines.
Pilot mental health
According to the American Airlines pilot, the problem lies more with the FAA and its regulations than with the airlines. Pilots must report every medical visit during their annual check-up over the past five years. This includes all mental health visits. They added that nothing happens to their career unless a diagnosis is given. But in order for medical professionals to be paid, most insurance companies require a diagnosis to be given, and most diagnoses prevent pilots from performing their role.
The FAA has strict rules in place regarding the health of pilots. Photo: American Airlines
There are pathways available for people with ADHD or simple depression, but these are processes that take long periods of time to clear and often incur significant costs for the pilot. Although these processes exist, they rule out a pilot until they can receive a clean bill of health. For those whose sole source of income is piloting, these procedures may be the reason one would refrain from asking for help.
“Even for things like a simple life event like a stressful death in the family, a diagnosis of ‘adjustment disorder’ can take one out of the market. Even without a diagnosis, a pilot who is ‘undergoing treatment “for anything other than marriage issues is not officially allowed to fly.”
Although the conversation about the mental health of pilots is often negative, there are a few things that are positive. Major airlines and unions have pilot counseling programs specifically hidden from the FAA to protect pilot careers.
“Being forced to choose between even minor health care and having a steady job is just ridiculous. In my group, I can think of many people who have decided to avoid seeking mental or non-mental health care; or who have gone to great lengths to do so discreetly, in cash, under an assumed name in a city or country they do not reside in. The fact that this is a thing should be alarming, even outrageous.
According to the National Library of Medicine, a survey by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine asked nearly 4,000 pilots if they had ever received medical care and withheld it from their respective airlines. 56.1% of the pilots questioned admitted to having a behavior of avoidance of care for fear of losing their medical certificate. The study concluded that further work is needed to address the problem of pilots’ avoidance of health care.
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