Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pilots Show Similar Mental Health Outcomes no Matter What Type of Aircraft They Fly

One might think that flying a jet over enemy territory presents a greater risk to a pilot's mental health than sitting in a darkened room watching a video screen. Or one might have heard recent news reports suggesting that the pilots of remotely piloted aircraft—popularly known as “drones”—are more stressed than their airborne counterparts.

To try to resolve that conundrum, Jean Otto, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., and Air Force Capt. Bryant Webber, M.D., compared adjusted rates of 12 mental health outcomes among all drone pilots (n=709) and all manned-aircraft pilots (n=5,256) who served in the U.S. Air Force from 2003 to 2011.

Piloting aircraft is piloting aircraft, they found. “There was no significant difference in the rates of mental health diagnoses, including posttraumatic stress disorder, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders between” drone and manned-aircraft pilots, said the researchers in the March Medical Surveillance Monthly Report. In addition, unadjusted incidence rates for any mental health outcomes were lower among both groups of pilots than among Air Force members overall, they said.

“Military policymakers and clinicians should recognize that [remotely piloted aircraft] and [manned aircraft] pilots have similar mental health risk profiles,” they concluded.

Psychiatric News has provided extensive coverage of military mental health issues. To read recent articles, click here and here.

(Image: Micha Rosenwirth/


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