The study was prompted by the 2015 plane crash by a Germanwings co-pilot that killed 150 people. Later reports suggested the pilot was depressed. In the new study, published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health, researchers surveyed 1,850 commercial airline pilots from 50 countries and found that nearly 13% met the criteria for depression and slightly over 4% reported having suicidal thoughts over the past two weeks.
“We found that many pilots currently flying are managing depressive symptoms, and it may be that they are not seeking treatment due to the fear of negative career impacts,” study author Joseph Allen, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science, said in a statement.
The new report is one of the first studies to assess pilot mental health. More male pilots than female pilots reported experiencing loss of interest, feeling like a failure, and thinking they would be better off dead, on a daily basis. Depression symptoms were also higher among pilots taking sleep medications and pilots who said they were experiencing sexual or verbal harassment.
Depression is common among the general public, as well. In the U.S. alone, 16 million adults have experienced a depressive episode in the last year. The new study highlights one potential group of people that may benefit from preventative care.
“The topic of mental illness among airline pilots is not new, but identifying and assisting pilots with mental illness remains a present day challenge,” the authors conclude in their report, citing pilots’ long working hours. Still, the new report underlines the need for more strategies on how to provide care.