Depression Among Pilots


Everyone, sometimes in there lives will feel sad. Most, at some stage of their life may even suffer from depression. It is not as uncommon as people think1. Pilots also suffer from this so called "problem". First, lets make it clear, depression does not mean you are about to jump of a bridge or fly an aircraft full of people into the ground. It means that their is a chemical imbalance in the brain which makes it more difficult to enjoy things. There a many stages of depression which range from mild to severe. Most of these cases are based on subjective view from doctors who listen to the person and decides they are clinical depressed. They base this diagnosis on the symptoms that the patient presents. For example, sadness, anxiousness, emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, guilt, irritability, or restlessness. It is often that the depression affects a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being2.
Using the world depression often brings to mind suicidal people. There is no doubt that some of these cases suffered depression, but not all people who suffer depression are suicidal. This points needs to be clear because some people often over react to the word.


There are loads of causes of depression, ranging from simple things like diet all the way to side effects of diseases. It is gets you down, it can be a cause. With pilots however, there are common trends that they need to be aware of in order to help reduce their effect. The first is stress, pilots are often subject to a lot of stress, its the nature of the beast. Pilots often go through stressful times not only when they are busy but also when they are not. In aviation there is a lot to stress about. The second would probably be fatigue. The constant stress and the nature of the job leads to fatigue. Too much and pilot will become depressed.
While this are the main causes, they are not the only thing. Unfortunately, depression often comes from a number of causes compounding and then feeding off each other. The mind starts to find evidence to back up why they are depressed3.


Apart from the fact that severe depression can cause a pilot to make stupid decisions. It also increases their chance of taking risks because they can become reckless and some do realise that it is happening. The other problem is the system (though changes are being made) sets itself up for pilot to hide their issues in order to keep their jobs.


There are real solutions out their that can help people who are feeling down. The first step (not trying to sound too cliche) is to admit their is a problem. That's not to say go running to your boss and proclaim it. All it means is that you seek help. Depression can be very hard to overcome by yourself and it is not going to go away until something changes. More often than not you have to invoke that change.

One of the best steps is to talk to someone. Counselors are their to help and are not emotionally invested unlike family or friends. Seeing these people will not mean you loss your medical. They are there to help stop issues becoming depression as much as they are to help it. In our lives today most of us are not taught how to deal with life unlike how we are taught math. These people can give you the tools to deal with situations. Thus reducing the cause at the source and not allowing the situation to get out of hand.

Most counselors will also suggest a number of steps that you can take. The first, if possible remove yourself away from the stressor or change your environment. They will also suggest that you look at your life and try to reduce other small stresses that may be compounding the effect.

Take time out for yourself, if possible daily. Now you do not have to go mediate, not everyone can relax that way, some relax with activity. What it means it take time to do something you enjoy. Try to create a balance in you life. One thing to remember, is there will be times that will get you down and time that you have to deal with problems. The challenge is to balance this out with the good and to use tools to stop the bad effecting you so much.

There is also loads of information about balanced lifestyles that will a few searched on google, you will no doubt find. Take time to find things that work for you. There are however, some basic rules.

Eat properly, sleep, and drink (water).
Relax (whatever works for you)

These simple thing can make a huge difference. If you can not do this by yourself, seek help. With time and efforts thing can get better4.


This does not just apply to pilots, however, as pilots, they need to realise there is nothing wrong with feeling depressed. There is something wrong about not doing something about it. There is also good news for those who do need more help, in the form of anti-depressants. It does not mean you will have to stop flying5. There are more and more cases of pilot who are flying on them. Seek help, sort it out.

1. Stoutt, Jr, G. R. (n.d.) Just for the Health of Pilots. Retrieved from
2. Wiki (October 2011). Depression (mood). Retrieved from
3. Pavlina S. (June 2006). Overcoming Depression. Retrieved from
4. Safe Harbor (2010). THE PHYSICAL CAUSES (AND SOLUTIONS) OF DEPRESSION. Retrieved from
5. Ahlers M. (April 2010). FAA to allow pilots to fly while on antidepressants. Retrieved from
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