In late October, news broke that Alaska Flight 2059 had to make an emergency diversion in Portland en route to San Francisco after the pilot on duty attempted to “disrupt the engines”.
Known as Joseph Emerson, he was later reported to have been accosted by the flight crew and detained. Today, he faces 83 counts of attempted murder, one for each passenger and crew member. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Emerson revealed a portrait of a man who made a “big mistake” in a mental health crisis.
According to the report, he was still suffering from a nightmarish psychotic trip caused by the psilocybin mushrooms he consumed 48 hours earlier, which left him feeling “trapped in a dream.” He took psychoactive mushrooms on a trip with friends to commemorate the death of his best friend; a loss that plunged him into deep grief and forced him to confront long-term mental health issues. In the report, Emerson says her therapist commented that she was likely suffering from depression, but the therapist was unable to diagnose her. She was told she should discuss a formal diagnosis with a doctor and possibly take anti-depressant medication. The only problem was that he feared it might jeopardize his family’s livelihood and career.
As details emerged about what happened to Emerson during the flight, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on November 9 that it was forming a committee to “make recommendations to remove barriers that prevent pilots from reporting mental health issues to the agency. “. The FAA can bar pilots who are depressed or taking certain prescription medications from flying. In 2010, the agency approved some antidepressants for those with mild to moderate depression. But it comes with a monitoring period that can last for years.
“This avoidance can have serious consequences because it can lead to reported health problems that can affect a pilot’s performance, and in our business, performance affects safety.”
In August, the Washington Post reported that federal authorities were investigating 5,000 pilots who allegedly falsified their medical records to hide benefits they received for health problems that could have affected their ability to fly. A 2016 study of anonymous participants published in the journal Environmental Health found that hundreds of commercial airline pilots could be clinically depressed and still fly. A more recent study found that many pilots avoid medical professionals, fearing that disclosing health problems could lead to them losing their medical license to fly.
Captain Rayne O’Shaughnessy, co-founder and CEO of Piloting 2 Wellbeing, told Salon that this fear often stems from “strict regulations” in the aviation industry.
“And the perception that health problems can compromise their ability to fly, and in some cases it does,” he said. “The importance of this is that this avoidance can have serious consequences because it can lead to health problems that can affect a pilot’s performance, and in our business, efficiency affects safety.”
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Indeed, Emerson is far from the first pilot to have a public meltdown. In 2012, passengers on a Jetblue flight had to restrain the pilot from a “freak mid-air crash,” as the New York Times put it. In July, a United Airlines pilot took an ax to a parking barrier at Denver Airport. He told police he had “hit his breaking point.” In 2015, a Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed a plane in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.
O’Shaughnessy said the industry is making progress in encouraging more transparency. Before 2010, if a pilot revealed they had depression or anxiety, they wouldn’t fly.
“The paradox now is that we have this system that we have to self-report if we’re struggling with depression or anxiety,” he said. “But the paradox is, why should pilots report that it affects their livelihood?”
“Mental health and mental well-being must be a shared responsibility, and that means involving all stakeholders in this aviation industry.”
The FAA claims that 0.1% of medical certificate applicants who disclose health problems are denied in an effort to encourage more pilots to come forward. However, not everyone who discovers and completes the monitoring period has sick days to take them. Also, there is the fear of what others might think.
O’Shaughnessy said a “culture change” is part of the solution, in addition to prioritizing mental fitness in pilot training and addressing the lifestyle required of pilots, which can include sleepless nights and not being served hot meals. work
“What I’m seeing is that mostly companies are just checking boxes,” he said. “Mental health and mental well-being must be a shared responsibility, and that means involving all stakeholders in this aviation industry.”
While it’s understandable that there’s a required standard of mental health for pilots who are responsible for hundreds of lives every day, some mental health experts say it’s another way systemic forces are perpetuating the ongoing mental health crisis among men in America. And that the culture change that O’Shaughnessy referred to can occur outside of the aviation industry as well. In America, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, but men are more likely to die by suicide. Nearly 80 percent of suicides are among men, with the majority over 75 and those working in more male-dominated industries such as construction and transportation.
Men are less likely than women to seek treatment and help. Carla Manley, MD, a clinical psychologist and author of The Joy of Fear, told Salon that workplace cultures where employees feel they have to “hide” mental health issues for fear of repercussions can have a negative impact.
“Given the pervasive nature of some ridiculous beliefs such as ‘real men are tough’ and ‘only weak people need psychological support’, those suffering from mental health problems are often afraid to seek the support they need,” he said. : “In my clinical work, I have certainly noted that men, even more than women, are hesitant to disclose their mental health problems after being judged, sidelined, or worse.”
Erin Pash, LMFT, founder and CEO of Ellie Mental Health, said the Salon community needs to redefine what it means to be “strong.”
“Men who lean in and accept their mental health support think differently about strength,” she said. “Being ‘mentally strong’ means being able to deal with difficult emotions and come out on the other side smarter, more adaptable and more engaged in their lives.”
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