Thursday 31 January 2008

Averting insanity

The need to talk

My write-up last Saturday about the need for a corporate counsellor in high-pressure environments or highly stressful jobs which require competences that tap resources of human virtue as mental strength, courage, boldness and calmness cannot have been too apt for its time.

Reading yesterday that a co-pilot broke down completely to a point that he had to be restrained and then committed to care makes for a disturbing development in the workplace.

Co-pilots are real pilots

The usefulness of a co-pilot cannot be overstressed as one can remember that the crash-landing with the survival of all passengers just two weeks ago at London Heathrow Airport was handled by a co-pilot.

It might be easy to dismiss this unfortunate person as crazed and hence an exception, but one must consider why people who seem to appear normal suddenly collapse into a heap of nerves or irrational behaviour requiring restraint.

There must be trigger factors which some sort of assessment or review should be able to detect or determine before things get out of hand.

The pressure they are under

That this happened to a commercial pilot whose responsibility includes the safe transport of souls and the expert management of an expensive conveyance vehicle in interesting.

Interesting because pilots are supposed to be tested every six months – psychologically and physically – these tests being conducted to arrest extreme situations as the one reported.

The typical flight time from Toronto, Canada (YYZ) to London Heathrow (LHR) is 6 hours 50 minutes (, which means for almost 6 hours the man was calmly doing what a pilot would do until he suddenly went bonkers.

Crew together or not at all

He was then restrained in an Economy Class seat as the captain requested a medical emergency landing at Shannon Airport (SNN) in Ireland, whilst donning a regulatory oxygen mask for the remainder of the flight.

Airline crews work as teams and since of the crew had taken ill, the same crew had to be grounded for alternative crew to take the aircraft and passengers to its original destination of London Heathrow some 8 hours behind schedule.

Meanwhile, I do hope the co-pilot recovers from his illness; it is unlikely that he would resume flying soon.

Needs must be addressed

There however has to be opportunities to address mental health concerns with sympathetic professionals without attracting the stigma of being mad or the sobriquet of being a loony.

Our work environments now require ample space to vent our spleens before we implode on our circumstances and self-destruct in minutes.

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