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Sarina Houston

Mental Health Among Crewmembers

By March 29, 2012

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Recent flight crew behavior has left people wondering about the mental health of pilots and flight attendants.

Two days ago, a JetBlue captain gave his copilot and passengers quite a scare when he acted erratically, running up and down the aisle yelling about Iraq and Iran and telling passengers to "say their prayers." The copilot locked him out of the cockpit, told other crewmembers to restrain him, and made a safe emergency landing.

Earlier this month, a flight attendant caused an aircraft to return to its gate after departing when she had what we can assume was a manic episode.

As more information is revealed regarding the erratic behavior of these crewmembers, many are wondering if pilots are screened for mental health problems, and if these situations could've been prevented.

Airline pilots must get a medical exam every year, or every six months if over the age of 40. The exam involves a questionnaire that asks about a patient's mental health history and history of medical disorders. Of course, the FAA relies on the pilot to reveal this information. A pilot who chooses not to disclose medical conditions can be fined and/or face jail time.

The FAA's Guide for Medical Examiners clearly states that any applicant with a form of psychosis, including severe depression, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, is to be denied a medical certificate.

While the behavior of these two crewmembers is extremely rare among airline crewmembers, the question of full disclosure remains: Are pilots and flight attendants ignoring mental health issues in fear of being denied a medical certificate?

What do you think? Is the absence of full disclosure during aviation medical exams a problem?

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