The Federal Aviation Administration has ruled out requiring psychological testing for airline pilots in favor of enhanced mental health support programs in response to a crash...
I thought I would make a small contribution to the discussion about how coverage of the recent airline tragedy focuses so much on the supposed ‘mental illness’ of the pilot and not so much on the possible role of antidepressants. Of course we will never know the answer to these questions but it is important, I think, to combat the simplistic nonsense wheeled out after most such tragedies, the nonsense that says the person had an illness that made them do awful things. So, just to confirm what many recipients of antidepressants, clinicians and researchers have been saying for a long time, here are some findings from our recent New Zealand survey of over 1,800 people taking anti-depressants, which we think is the largest survey to date.
With the current focus on the possible contribution of psychoactive drugs to the crash of GermanWings flight A320 on Tuesday, March 24, it is useful to identify potential links between the effect of the antidepressants and the events. In all 47 cases listed on SSRIstories, the pilots were taking antidepressant medications, mostly SSRIs, often in combination with other medications and sometimes with alcohol.
The crash last week of the Germanwings plane has shocked many. In view of the apparent mental health record of the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, questions have been asked about the screening policies of airlines. The focus has generally been on the conditions pilots may have or the arguments they might be having with partners or other situational factors that might make them unstable. Even when the issue of the medication a pilot may be taking is raised, it is in the context of policies that permit pilots to continue on drugs like antidepressants to ensure any underlying conditions are effectively treated. But fewer treatments in medicine are effective in this sense than people might think and even when effective they come with effects that need to be balanced against the likely effects of the underlying condition.