Date of Award
Dissertation - Open Access
Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation
College of Aviation
Scott R. Winter
The mental health of commercial airline pilots is as important as their physical health because of their immense responsibility for the safety of their passengers and crews. Pilot suicides that end in fatal aircraft crashes result in many injuries and deaths. Although depression and suicidal tendencies are common across all genders, ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds, the mental health of aviation pilots has been challenging to evaluate and quantify through routine flight medical exams.
The purpose of this study was to determine predictive factors of depression and suicidal tendencies among commercial airline pilots. Previous research has determined predictive factors of depression and suicidal tendencies in both the general population and specific subgroups, such as police and military personal. There has been little research focused on predicting depression and suicidal tendencies in 14 C.F.R. Part 121 airline pilots; thus, exposing a significant gap in the related aviation literature.
This study employed a non-experimental correlational research design to investigate depression and suicidal tendencies among commercial airline pilots. From 728 responses to the online questionnaire website, 570 cases qualified for analysis. Thirteen exogenous variables were assessed through structural equation modeling (SEM) to identify predictors of Depression and Suicidal Tendencies, the endogenous variables. The results indicated support for three hypotheses, and two other significant relationships were discovered.
Level of Stress and Job Satisfaction had significant influence on Depression, while Self-Reported Childhood Trauma, Level of Stress, and Depression had significant influence on Suicidal Tendencies. Level of Stress was positively related to Depression, suggesting Depression scores increase with Stress scores. Job Satisfaction was negatively related to Depression, suggesting Depression scores decrease with increases in Job Satisfaction scores. Stress, Childhood Trauma, and Depression were positively related to Suicidal Tendencies, suggesting the score for Suicidal Tendencies increases with an increase in Stress, Childhood Trauma, or Depression. The results also indicated a significant relationship between the COVID-19 control variable and Depression, but not with Suicidal Tendencies. There was no change in model fit when the control variable was removed, suggesting minimal effects of a perceived threat from COVID-19 on both Depression and Suicidal Tendencies.
The initial SEM model explained 7.3% of the variance in Depression and 2.1% of the variance in Suicidal Tendencies. The final SEM model showed improvement in the amount of variance explained in both Depression and Suicidal Tendencies, explaining 8.1% of the variance in Depression and 27.1% of the variance in Suicidal Tendencies. The findings from this research provide insights into predicting the mental health of airline pilots. This information can benefit regulating agencies and airline hiring operations to ensure the safety of commercial air travel.
Scholarly Commons Citation
Bulleigh, Tanya Kim, "Developing a Predictive Model of Depression and Suicidal Tendencies in Pilots" (2021). Doctoral Dissertations and Master's Theses. 706.