One in Eight Pilots May Be Clinically Depressed (and 1 in 25 Possibly Suicidal)

There’s a new study out suggesting that one in eight pilots may suffer from untreated depression.

This really isn’t surprising, there’s definitely a stigma against seeking treatment and a fear of being grounded.

The anonymous survey of about 1,850 pilots from more than 50 countries found that 14 percent of pilots who had worked within the past week had symptoms of depression. Four percent of pilots reported having suicidal thoughts within the past two weeks.

Copyright: viewapart / 123RF Stock Photo

This research by UPS Captain and Professor Debbie Donnelly-McLay and Harvard Professor Joseph Allen doesn’t address the severity of depression. Look, we all have our good days and our bad days and much of what might technically be depression could also be within normal operating parameters for many people.

I remember the 1997 crash of Silk Air flight 185 from Jakarta to Singapore, which the NTSB found was deliberate (but conclusion on which Indonesian authorities differed).

Last year’s Germanwings crash deliberately caused by the plane’s co-pilot, who had been treated for suicidal tendencies, is fresher on most minds for locking the pilot out of the cockpit and directing the plane into a mountain.

These incidents are incredibly rare, and stand out 20 years apart. Two other incidents in between, EgyptAir 990 and LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight 470, are possible cases as well.

This is hardly a new issue, and it’s one that safety agencies (and airlines) have sought to tackle for years. In fact, in 2010 the FAA allowed pilots to fly while on anti-depressants. They don’t want to force pilots to hide the challenges they face or to go untreated. And being depressed isn’t necessarily dangerous.

At the same time many pilots may think that anyone checking up on them is looking for an excuse to ground them. There are cultural issues that make it difficult to get help, and consequences for those who need the most help for getting it. So even ostensibly ‘safe spaces’ in which to seek treatment, such as through pilots unions, face challenges. I don’t know the simple answer here.

(HT: Paul H.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. If that was your copilot and company policy said you couldn’t sleep with her or any of the fight attendants, would you be happy or depressed? This is why we need more female pilots and more guys on modeling runways. It’s time we objectified guys, paid them will for it and let them accuse women of being cows for even thinking about it.

    Wow I do blabber like trump.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *