Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pilot Mental Health

Today I saw a posting by Jamie Beckett over at General Aviation News regarding the difficulties many pilots have in recognizing, admitting and ultimately addressing mental health distress. Instead, he believes that we are likely to suffer without treatment and perhaps will turn to various substances for self-medication.

It is really hard to dispute this. 

As we are all aware, the majority of the pilot population is male and it therefore might not shock us to learn that aviation culture is dominated by hegemonic masculine gender norms.  On average, men are less likely to admit any type of distress because we view it as weakness.  We instead tend to be driven by norms identified by Joseph Pleck - Be a Sturdy Oak.  No Sissy Stuff.  Give 'em Hell.  We can see that these injunctions set the stage not only to avoid getting help, but also may have something to do with those hazardous attitudes that the FAA keeps trying to get us to recognize. 

By the way, research on organizational culture shows that even women operating within a culture dominated by such destructive norms tend to adopt them as well.  For example, female police officers tend to operate as if driven by these same hegemonic masculinity norms. 

I think that Mr. Beckett makes an important call for us to not only look internally, but also at the culture of aviation in order to help our brothers and sisters to take better care of themselves and to make themselves better pilots in the process. 

** I am aware that some may be dismayed about the broad generalizations that I am making here. Fair, but do see that I used words such as "on average" and "tend" because of course individual results may vary. 

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