UAE experts call for prioritising mental health in pilots

UAE experts call for prioritising mental health in pilots

With the aviation sector gradually returning from the COVID-19 pandemic impact, top aviation medicine experts have called on airline companies to prioritise the mental health of employees.

Recently, the second edition of the Burjeel Medical Aviation Congress was organised by Dubai's Burjeel Hospital, a unit of VPS Healthcare with the aim of addressing the mental health concerns of pilots and post-covid impact on operations staff in the airline industry. The two-day event was held under the patronage of the General Civil Aviation Authority of the UAE with the participation of leading healthcare professionals and medical experts. They discussed the latest developments in aviation medicine and underlined the importance of raising mental health awareness.


Impact of the pandemic

Working in the aviation industry has certain health-related challenges, including long hours, erratic sleep patterns, and circadian rhythm disruption. These issues can cause fatigue, anxiety and mood changes among the employees. Therefore, medical experts have pointed toward the adverse impact of the pandemic on aviation employees' physical and mental health. During the COVID-19 fight, employees experienced several psychological stressors including job insecurity, financial concerns, pilot proficiency, and fear of contracting the illness among others. Taking cognizance of the ongoing trend, experts stated that the pandemic has affected the cognitive abilities of pilots including working memory, situational awareness, concentration, reaction time, multitasking, and others.

Speaking on the matter, Dr Edma Naddaf, aviation psychologist, highlighted that the pandemic has had a double impact (physical and psychological) on aviation employees.

"We started seeing problems in very competent people. The more confident they were, the more scared they were to appear weak. As many as five in 10 patients were being referred for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment," she noted.

Pilots who lost their jobs experienced massive, while those who were retained by their employers also went through similar stress concerns.

For instance, a patient in his late 30s suffered from panic attacks because of mental health concerns. Another pilot was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood undergoing various changes due to COVID-19.

“In the UAE, we had support from the authorities. We did a lot of things for frontliners like setting up call centres. But I’m not sure if that was the case everywhere," the doctor added.


Need for stronger support systems

Experts further underlined the dire need for strengthening mental healthcare systems for pilots. At the conference, experts noted that pilots' mental health is a safety risk. They went on to suggest solutions such as regular workshops on coping strategies, ensuring the provision of non-judgemental listening, and setting an incentive for self-reporting, among other facilities.

They also recommended a stronger collaboration between aviation medicine and psychology to ensure the development of new strategies for limiting the impact linked with long Covid.

During the conference, medical specialities updated about various developments in Aviation Medicine. Some of the high-profile speakers, included Dr Sally Evans, deputy secretary of the International Academy of Aviation and Space Medicine; Dr John Chalkley, expert in physiology of spaceflight; Dr Kavita Dhingra, occupational medicine expert in aviation. At the same time, Dr Erik Hohmann talked about various treatment options in terms of stem cells and biologics for flight crew.

Dr Hohmann, chairman of the congress, explained the focus areas of the event, noting that more than 100 aviation and healthcare experts from the Middle East attended the second edition of the conference.

"We hope the deliberations that took place on the important aspects of mental health, cardiovascular, cancer, and orthopaedic risks of the aviation workforce will guide the industry in making considered decisions," he added.

SOURCE: Khaleej Times


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