Are Mental Health issues in ATC being ignored?

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PushingTin

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I just heard about ANOTHER controller suicide. This time at COS. I feel like I have heard about these a LOT in the last couple years, yet never a word from the agency. Not much from the union either who uses their social media to post about every social justice issue under the sun, but few that have anything to do w working conditions of ATC.

Everyone knows about the "wow that job must be stressful" label that ATC gets (especially from those who don't do it). Are the staffing issues exaserbating this crisis? 6 day work weeks, no leave available. No realistic ability to transfer, etc. Not that these would be the MAIN causal issues, but perhaps amplifying preexisting conditions. I can't find any official stats but it seems like its a huge spike from the past. 1 per month in last couple years? USA is one of only ATCs in world that even does 40 hour workweeks. Shift work, shitty quality of life, sometimes toxic work environments, no leave available, etc. IS this getting worse or am I imagining things? IS it being swept under the rug?



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ATC_av8er

Trusted Contributor
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149
You only hit on a few of the issues that could be causing this. One of the biggest things that needs to be done is a complete overhaul of the way mental issues are reported. Not only do we need to remove the stigma of mental illness, we need to reform the medical office to ensure that controllers (and pilots) who report mental health issues don't immediately lose their careers. I don't have any numbers, but I would imagine there are many that suffer from these issues, know they suffer, but cannot seek treatment without the possibility of losing their livelihoods.
 

GulfBravoPapa

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1,366
I'm am sorry but it is just a job. Take care of yourself first and foremost. If you need mental health help, than get it and report it. Worst case? They pull your medical.... Wouldn't you still be able to qualify for a medical retirement? I understand not everyone can take prolonged periods of time off of work if there was a hope of eventually getting their medical back but I getting to thr point if having a mental breakdown a better option?

Idk about changing the way medicals are processed, it kinda seems like there are too many variables. How long do you wait before ensuring the medications are correct? Hat doses are correct? In a profession where we have hundreds to thousands of lives under our control I'm not sure it is wise to allow people with unknown side affects and unknown (yet diagnosed) mental stability. A nervous breakdown or whatever on position isn't beneficial for anyone.
 

ATC_av8er

Trusted Contributor
Messages
149
I'm am sorry but it is just a job. Take care of yourself first and foremost. If you need mental health help, than get it and report it. Worst case? They pull your medical.... Wouldn't you still be able to qualify for a medical retirement? I understand not everyone can take prolonged periods of time off of work if there was a hope of eventually getting their medical back but I getting to thr point if having a mental breakdown a better option?

Idk about changing the way medicals are processed, it kinda seems like there are too many variables. How long do you wait before ensuring the medications are correct? Hat doses are correct? In a profession where we have hundreds to thousands of lives under our control I'm not sure it is wise to allow people with unknown side affects and unknown (yet diagnosed) mental stability. A nervous breakdown or whatever on position isn't beneficial for anyone.

And I think most of us would agree regarding a mental breakdown. I would fully expect to lose my medical if I were to be given medication for my mental illness, at least for a little bit, but if that's the case, make me a desk jockey until it can be determined my condition is under control. Maybe add a mental health exam to our medicals every year. This is a major problem and it needs to be addressed and controllers can't feel afraid to seek help.
 

colombia_atc

Member
Messages
22
I'm am sorry but it is just a job. Take care of yourself first and foremost. If you need mental health help, than get it and report it. Worst case? They pull your medical.... Wouldn't you still be able to qualify for a medical retirement? I understand not everyone can take prolonged periods of time off of work if there was a hope of eventually getting their medical back but I getting to thr point if having a mental breakdown a better option?

Idk about changing the way medicals are processed, it kinda seems like there are too many variables. How long do you wait before ensuring the medications are correct? Hat doses are correct? In a profession where we have hundreds to thousands of lives under our control I'm not sure it is wise to allow people with unknown side affects and unknown (yet diagnosed) mental stability. A nervous breakdown or whatever on position isn't beneficial for anyone.

Sadly, most people who do have mental health issues don't get help. For various reasons, people with serious and legitimate mental illness don't recognize the problem, don't realize how serious it is, or don't know how to ask for help. Most of the time, it requires intervention. I've seen this first-hand in two family members. One of them attempted suicide. To this very day, he still thinks we're lying to him when we tell him he tried to commit suicide. He truly believes the incident never happened and that all of us (including all of his doctors) are having a group fantasy.
 

FightingIrish2012

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Is ATC suicide significantly higher than the general population?
Yes, when you do the math they are 4X the general public, these are true stats I looked it up and did the math.

This is a paradox to me, it is undeniable that ATCS do commit suicide at 4X the annual rate. But when relatives or friends ask me about the stress and if ATC suicide rates are high I respond with something like “I don’t know, I know ATC suicides were high back in the day, but now there are so many avenues and scams out of working traffic (sup jobs, TMU, endless details, medical DQ into a QA spot, etc....) that if the traffic stress is what’s bothering you I don’t think the job stress alone causes suicides as there are so many ways out”.

I stand by those comments. So while ATC suicides are high, I still don’t think the job itself is the primary cause of it. I only knew one ATC who killed himself and it was a shock. Two weeks prior the guy seemed completely fine, even brought his family in for a facility tour. Usually you get real quiet and reserved prior to a suicide so I don’t know what happen with him, it was too bad.
 

jdatc

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376
Yes, when you do the math they are 4X the general public, these are true stats I looked it up and did the math.

Controllers are in large an interesting group. There are a ton of statistical anomalies in the group due to personality types.....

For example, there are around 327million people in the US right? In the US, active Base jumpers (Flinging oneself off of a cliff or the likes with a parachute) generally number sub 2,000 participants total, or at least that’s my best estimate, and is probably a bit high....

So that’s like 1/164k people in the general population, discounting age and race, etcetera.....

However, I knew 3 other controllers who BASE jumped while I was active BASE jumping. Oh, and I met a NAV canada controller while BASE jumping at an event, and had mutual friends of a French controller who jumped....

what are the odds.....
 

Mike Kilo

Legendary Member
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2,021
Didn’t NATCA just have a national suicide awareness campaign? I don’t think they are ignoring it, but they aren’t trying to negotiate any fixes that I’m aware of.
 

Tom

Member
Messages
74
I do some volunteering and I will say that a ton of other stressful jobs also include a stigma. Police/fire/ems. I mean seeing a therapist for death in family or something could land you losing your badge "until you work through it." I see a lot of stigma talk and yet nobody I know would care if you were talking to a professional or taking meds. The ATC stuff is the same-if you seek help and something is slightly off, you could lose your job.
 
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Usually you get real quiet and reserved prior to a suicide so I don’t know what happen with him, it was too bad.

False

Didn’t NATCA just have a national suicide awareness campaign? I don’t think they are ignoring it, but they aren’t trying to negotiate any fixes that I’m aware of.

"awareness campaign"
How many of you actually followed the "awareness campaign" suggestion of talking to a co-worker? (very little) and if you did, I'm willing to bet that co-worker gave you an "I'm good/I'm fine blah blah blah etc." of a response, because guess what....THEY DON'T WANT TO LOSE THEIR JOB! - thus putting them into a further downward spiral.

An awareness campaign (without job secure options) is much like the TSA....useless. It's a show of "we're aware of the problem."

I would think there are controllers taking (unbeknownst to the big brother) prescriptions for depression/mental health while continuing to work (and I'm sure there are a ton of them out there). It comes down to the chance of pissing hot (do SSRI's even show on FAA drug test?) and losing your job, or speaking up, admitting to a mental health issue, and losing your job.

I would imagine, a controller battling a mental health issue is no more safe on the job controlling without meds, than one who is on meds. Just as meds have side effects, having an uncontrolled mental health problem has side effects of its own.

Let's be clear, (and I think we all know this) mental health issues in one form or another are far more prevalent than we probably wish to admit.
NATCA and the agency need to get out in front of this (too late) because with the main stream addressing it, and society becoming more understanding and accepting, it's only going to become more of an issue - watch.

I'd be curious to see if NATCA maintains any kind of data on the suicides. My guess is no. An "awareness campaign" and reaching out to controllers, asking for anonymous input/surveys/suggestions in addressing this are two totally different things - one shows that you care more so than the other.

I'm not sure what the solution is; it's a slippery slope; but asking your d-side if they are depressed and getting an affirmative answer is likely never going to happen short of an operational error.

I agree with those saying "it's just a job, if you need help, leave the job and get help" - clearly that's an outstanding concept, but if you have worked your whole life getting to where you are now, if you have a family and kids counting on you, if this is your life...it's not that simple. (insert "the notebook" - its not that simple scene)
 
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FightingIrish2012

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I would never condone doing that but I do wonder how many people are taking anti depressants or anxiety meds without reporting? Regarding the drug test thing I don’t think that would show up in one unless it was a test speficicialy for traces of those types of meds, I don’t think it’s part of the norms pallet they test for but I’m not sure.
 
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PushingTin

Guest
Was this a recent thing? I haven’t heard anything about it

This is my point. You NEVER hear anything about them officially, but there happening more and more frequently. I'm told that NATCA did light a Facebook candle.

I'd be curious to see if NATCA maintains any kind of data on the suicides. My guess is no. An "awareness campaign" and reaching out to controllers, asking for anonymous input/surveys/suggestions in addressing this are two totally different things - one shows that you care more so than the other.

Can confirm that NATCA lit a Facebook candle back in July...

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