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Pilots focus on peer support for stress

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/12/2016

Systems are in place to deal with the impact of stress on pilots and peer support is one of them, according to the New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association.

The move to reassure people by the association that represents more than 2300 pilots and air traffic controllers in New Zealand came after an international study found 12.6 per cent of pilots met the criteria for depression.

The authors of the study conducted by Harvard University said many pilots currently flying are managing depressive symptoms and may not be seeking treatment due to the fear of negative career impacts.

The issue must be talked about and is being dealt with, says the NZ association's medical and welfare director Herwin Bongers.

Aside from regular psychometric testing and vigorous medical protocols, pilots are supporting each other, he says.

"We've established a highly trained network of peers who regularly act as a 'safe harbour' for their colleagues - they're people they can speak to who understand the pressures," Mr Bongers, who is a pilot, says.

In November pilots gathered for a peer assistance network training course for peer support volunteers. Training is ongoing and more pilots are opting to become PSVs as awareness grows.

Jetconnect is the PAN programme's first financial stakeholder airline, while meetings to identify other key stakeholders for the scheme are ongoing.

Unlike overseas, it's required by law for medical professionals in New Zealand to report any knowledge of something that might deem a pilot unfit to fly.

"Mental health issues are a normal part of society, but elevated levels are found in high-stress jobs," Mr Bongers said.

The more prominent people talk about mental health, the easier it will be for professionals to report it, he says.

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