How Airlines Help Employees To Manage Mental Health

October 10th is World Mental Health Day and according to the World Health Organization is a day to “rekindle our efforts and improve mental health.” Let’s look at how United States airlines help employees manage their mental health.

Managing mental health

Since the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, mental health has been at the forefront of many conversations. The pandemic forced people worldwide to remain locked inside homes and stripped many of social interaction, increasing depression and suicide rates. As a result, companies have started to include their mental health policies and coverages in job listings.

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Delta Air Lines Flight Attendant

Flight attendants have faced immense battles when it comes to their mental health, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Photo: Delta Air Lines

The United Airlines website does not mention anything about mental health, but United provided Simple Flying with a statement saying,

“Our employee benefits package has several resources to support employees’ mental wellness, including access to emotional support, counseling and behavioral health professionals.”

Simple Flying spoke to a United Airlines staff member who said they do not feel their employer cares about their mental health. This was their response when asked if they thought that their employer cared,

“…not really. I mean they work us pretty hard, and I’ve never been offered time off to recoup or even just a second to breathe… They want you to go go 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 whole employee through physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing is our privilege and responsibility all year round. That’s why we provide a number of services under each of our four wellbeing pillars – and why earlier this year Delta introduced unprecedented mental health resources including 12 free therapy sessions per issue per year, for each employee and member of their household.”

Delta does not stop at paying for counseling sessions for its employees and household family members, it has also provided on-site support at most of its hubs.

“In addition, mental health coaches are located at most of our major hubs to offer in-the-moment support to employees. Meanwhile, our mental health physician on staff continues engaging directly with employees to destigmatize mental health and build meaningful programs and resources that are easy to access both on location and online.”

American Airlines lists well-being programs for its employees’ physical, financial, and emotional well-being but does not explicitly state what the airline offers in terms of mental health. Simple Flying spoke to a pilot with American Airlines who shed light on the predicament many pilots face.

Southwest Airlines told Simple Flying that one way it invests in its employees’ well beings is through the Clear Skies Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which offers help through counseling and specialized services. This benefit is offered to employees from day one of their employment.

Simple Flying contacted other airline employees for statements but did not receive a response. Throughout the pandemic, flight attendants were all over social media sharing some of their mental health struggles with airlines, many claiming that their mental health was not a concern for employers. The statements above look good on paper, but how much do the airlines actually help? Some even think that the reason employees end up needing therapy is due to how they are treated by the airlines.

Pilot mental health

According to the American Airlines pilot, the issue lies more with the FAA and its regulations than with the airlines. Pilots must report every medical visit at their annual checkup within the last five years. This includes all mental health visits. They added that nothing happens to their careers unless a diagnosis is given. But for medical professionals to be paid, most insurance companies require that a diagnosis be given, and most diagnoses disqualify pilots from performing in their roles.

Pilots-Pilots-at-controls-in-cockpit

The FAA has strict rules in place regarding pilot health. Photo: American Airlines

There are pathways available for those with ADHD or simple depression, but they are processes that take extended periods to be cleared and often generate high out-of-pocket costs to the pilot. Though these processes exist, they sideline a pilot until they can be given a clean bill of health. For those whose only source of income is piloting, these procedures can be why one would refrain from seeking assistance.

“Even for things like a simple life event such as a family death resulting in stress, being diagnosed with “adjustment disorder” can take one off the market. Even with no diagnosis, a pilot who is “undergoing treatment” for anything other than marital issues isn’t officially permitted to fly.”

Though the conversation regarding mental health for pilots is often negative, there are a few positive things. The larger airlines and unions have counseling programs for pilots specifically hidden from the FAA to protect the pilots’ careers.

“To be forced to decide between even minor healthcare and having a steady job is just ridiculous. In my group, I can think of plenty of individuals who have decided to avoid seeking mental or non-mental healthcare; or have gone to great lengths to do so off the radar, in cash, under an assumed name in a city or country in which they do not reside. The fact that these are a thing should be alarming if not straight outrageous.”

According to the National Library of Medicine, a survey by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine asked almost 4,000 pilots if they had ever engaged in medical care and kept that from their respective airlines. 56.1% of pilots surveyed admitted to healthcare avoidance behavior in fear of losing their medical certificate. The study concluded that further work is necessary to address the issue of pilot healthcare avoidance.