Depression is treatable. Evil is not.

While there are no numbers available on how many airline pilots may be keeping their depression secret as they continue flying, it's generally accepted that about 10 percent of the general population suffers from depression. That could mean that 25,000 of the nation's 250,000 commercial pilots have the condition.

Would you rather have a pilot you has been thinking about killing himself in the depths of clinical depression with the cockpit stick in his hand or a pilot or co-pilot who is being treated for depression with medication and counseling in control of your flight?

In a statement, the FAA said: “Pilots must disclose all existing physical and psychological conditions and medications or face significant fines of up to $250,000 if they are found to have 
falsified information.”

In the case of mental health evaluations, pilots are taken off the flight schedule while they are treated or begin antidepressant medications.  Until 2010, even these drugs were banned, and 
pilots who required them could no longer fly.

The new rule is aimed, in part, at removing the stigma of mental illness, similar to the way the FAA began to deal with drug abuse and alcoholism in the cockpit when it established its Human 
Intervention and Motivation Study 40 years ago. 

Removing the stigma, in my opinion begins with education. 

* What is major depression? 

* How is it treated? 

* What are the potential side effects of antidepressants? 

* What is the prognosis?

The ignorance about depression is underscored by the person who wrote the following in an online chat room:

 “How can you be depressed when you work the best job in the world?  Smile.

Those pilots who experience depression must not be there in the first place, they should take up an office job in some insurance company and leave their place to people who really enjoy 

The air disaster in the French Alps enflames the belief that mental illness can lead to violence. It does not. Most of the violence by the mentally ill is against themselves and not others. Multiple scientific studies have concluded that Serious mental illness was statistically unrelated to community violence unless unless there was also substance abuse or dependence.

The question we should be asking is why the airline industry discriminates against pilots who are getting help for a mental illness? Would they be treated the same way for a physical illness that is easily diagnosed in the required annual physicals?

My February 6, 2015 post  Depression in the Workplace: Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Seemed to foreshadow the devastating news the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525  Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the airliner. Lubitz was earlier deemed "unfit" for piloting duty by his doctor, it is assumed, for mental reasons. He did not disclose his condition to his employer because a pilot can be grounded, perhaps permanently, if they are being treated for 

I have always advocated making the workplace mental health friendly. (See my post 5 Ways to End Mental Illness Stigma at Your Company in 2015 )

Lufthansa and other airlines can take simple steps to be proactive in mental health wellness for all of the pilots and other employees. For example, I learned recently about an organization called the Workplace Wellness Ambassador Certification program, which includes mental health/stress management. 

That organization is affiliated with Stressmaster International, created by Dr. James Petersen, an Arizona Psychologist and Director of the Biofeedback and Stress Management Clinic in
Tucson, Arizona.

Andreas Lubitz may or may not have been suffering from depression. If he was, that is NOT what caused his cowardly actions. 

I see a glimmer of hope in this tragedy. Attention is being given to mental illness stigma in the workplace that makes pilots afraid of grounding their careers and putting all of us at the risk of slamming into a mountain at 400 miles per hour.

When you get on an airliner, you ought to be comfortable that airplane is being maintained and it's being operated by people who are qualified and healthy and that 'healthy' means physical
and mental.

All companies, including airlines, must take a proactive role in assuring their workers are employed in a mental health safe environment. Bring pilots out of the closet and back into the 
cockpit as they are being effectively treated for depression just like those of us non-pilots are 


 “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”
--Aristotle Onassis


I try to write a blog post three times a month, but I’ve been traveling and speaking about mental illness and stigma. My recent speech to neuroscience students at the University of North Carolina and Duke University, two of the top eight universities in the U.S., was one I titled “The Speech I Wish I had heard when I was an Undergraduate.”

My college years were during Nixon’s first term as President and the Vietnam War was raging. The only thing I knew about mental illness then was jokes and the family secret my Dad’s older sister was a little off and her son once shot himself in the leg to keep from going to school. No labels for mother and son because going to a psychiatrist would bring shame to the family. Our family engaged in its own conspiracy of silence about mental illness. My poor cousin is in his 80’s now living in his mother’s house and eating from cans of food neighbors give him. He has schizophrenia, but never formerly diagnosed and no medicine, of course. An Uncle checks on his welfare from time to time.

I wish I had heard the speech I gave in North Carolina when I was a student because I could have realized I was mentally ill. Why else would severe depression lead me to the decision to take my life? Obviously, I didn’t follow through.

Sad story, isn’t it? Now think about your employees who may be suffering from depression or other mental illness too afraid of stigma at work to get help. Think about the impact untreated mental illness has on productivity and your company’s bottom line.

May I suggest a starting point in ending the conspiracy of silence on mental illness in your company by inviting someone like me to speak at a company meeting or to your Board of Directors? I speak frankly with a touch of self-deprecating humor to keep my audiences engaged. I am hired as a keynote speaker because I am not boring. You have plenty of employees or yourself without training as a public speaker and put the audience asleep so they miss a message that could save their lives and enrich your company. My latest speech to university students isn’t posted on my website yet, but an earlier one is there. I delivered it to the Turning Point Foundation in Ventura, CA and titled it “17 Minutes.” The title came from the fact that there is one suicide every 17 minutes in the U.S. because people don’t get treatment for mental illness out of fear of stigma.  

You should listen to me before hiring me, of course.  Consider it my audition and a bit of “shameless self- promotion,” as my mentor Patricia Fripp calls it.

You can schedule me through MVP Seminars 442-300-2425.

My corporate speech title is “Mental Health in the Workplace Makes Dollars and ’Sense.’” I explain the steps a company should take to make the workplace mental health-friendly, and demonstrate how that translates into productivity and adds to the bottom line. I look forward to hearing from you and will applaud you for the courage to break the conspiracy of silence about mental illness in the workplace.


- See more at:

Bleeding money isn’t limited to American companies, but let’s look at them as a typical example.
Fact: Among those of working age, it is estimated that the prevalence of mental
illness and/or substance abuse in any given year approaches 25%.
Fact:  Mental illness and substance abuse cost employers in indirect costs an estimated $80 to $100 billion annually.
“Employers understand that behavioral health benefits are essential components of healthcare benefits. Over the past few decades, employers have tried to improve the delivery of behavioral healthcare services in a number of ways. Despite important progress, employers’ current approaches to managing cost and quality are insufficient. Standardized and integrated programs addressing the delivery of behavioral healthcare services remain rare. And unfortunately, it is not customary for employers to integrate behavioral healthcare benefits offered through the health plan with behavioral health benefits offered through disability management, employee assistance, or health promotion programs. The result is that employee sponsored behavioral benefits are fragmented, uncoordinated, duplicative, and uneven in terms of access and quality.”
What are “indirect costs”? 
• Mental illness causes more days of work loss and work impairment than many other chronic conditions 
• Approximately 217 million days of work are lost annually due to productivity decline related to mental illness and substance abuse disorders
• Mental illness and substance abuse disorders represent the top 5 causes of disability among people age 15-44 in the United States and Canada
• Mental illness and substance abuse disorders, combined as a group, are the fifth leading cause of short-term disability and the third leading cause of long-term disability for employers in the United States.
• Stress and depression probably explain “close to 30% of the total risk of heart attacks,” according to a cardiovascular physician at the University of Florida. 
• Mental illness short-term disability claims are growing by 10% annually and can account for 30% or more of the corporate disability experience for the typical employer.
• Yet, less than one-third of adults with a diagnosable mental disorder receive treatment in any given year.
It is true many companies are making great progress in dealing with behavioral health issues of their employees, but there is a long way to go. 
In my opinion, the current international news about how to combat terrorism is an interesting parallel with the way to combat the economic impact mental illness and substance abuse has on American businesses.
 “Go to the source,” we are told by our political leaders, “and deal with the reasons why young people are deciding to join terrorist groups such as ISIS.”
I was struck by the similarity to the waste in business because the root attitude is not identified and managed. That root attitude is stigma.  Fear of stigma keeps people from seeking psychiatric help when needed and stigma is fostered by many employers who are in the business of saving and making money, not educating management about behavioral health issues.
The Disability Management Employer Coalition’s 2014 Behavioral Risk Survey posed 42 online questions to 314 employers of various sizes between July and August last year.
The results suggest the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace still very much exists.
Respondents were asked what level of, or change in, stigma associated with “having a psychological/psychiatric problem” they have witnessed in the last two years. 
• Overall, 41.4 percent of respondents said the stigma remained the same, with 25.1 percent indicating that the stigma has actually decreased in that time.
• Another 24.2 percent, however, said the stigma has increased since 2012. And, consider that just 7.6 percent reported feeling the same way two years ago.
How do American companies save $100 Billion Dollars a year? Think of how we hope to keep our youth from falling for ISIS’s propaganda: change the message:
Mental illness is no different than a physical illness. It requires acceptance and treatment. To do no less is corporate suicide.