COVID-19 – Collective Need to address Mental Health concerns

COVID-19 surge doesn’t seem to be abating, what with another wave resurfacing while some of the affected countries are still struggling to contain the first wave itself. This prolongs the wait for the aviation sector to recommence operations, in turn delaying the return of pilots and other aviation personnel to work. The lingering financial insecurities and the changed lifestyles are definitely starting to show signs of frayed nerves, doubts about employment with dwindling cash reserves and mounting loan repayments while supporting oneself and the family. In such a scenario, all of us, irrespective of what walk of life we come from, are likely to be stressed out. This is the time to introspect, and if we find our mental reserves are running low, we need to seek help.

This may require courage on our part to admit that we are feeling low during the current times of COVID-19 pandemic. Coping we may be, but it leaves us feeling vulnerable and weak. This is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, rather a calamity.

Instead of feeling alone and left out, let’s look at what each of us in different spheres of aviation can offer each other to enable us to navigate through these bad weather days. On the part of the regulators, there is a need for an empathetic approach to a likely rise in mental health conditions among some of the licence holders due to changed employment conditions and resulting financial strains. The aviation industry, even if they have stood down or laid off their staff, need to continue offering ongoing support in the form of employee assistance programs. This is their social responsibility towards those who contributed to the growth of the industry before COVID-19 brought it to a standstill. Peer-support programs may have their hands full with an increase in workload due to likely rise in numbers of those seeking help due to prevailing stresses, yet there may be need to expand assistance to anyone who seeks help. Colleagues and friends have the responsibility to look out for each other. Most importantly, each individual has to remain responsible for herself – reassessing our strengths and weaknesses – and to seek help if we find ourselves unable to cope with our daily lives due to changed circumstances.

It may be worthwhile to consider a collective reach out program at different levels. This includes:

  • Information dissemination. There is a need for information dissemination about the crisis, its impact on mental health and how to cope with it. Additionally, in case of need for support what are the available resources and whom and how to approach for support. The need for ensuring confidentiality cannot be overemphasised. This task can be taken up either as an industry response or collectively with the regulator, with appropriate professional inputs.
  • Peer support. The peer support, as is the practice, needs to be offered on a one-to-one basis. This will help build rapport and acceptance on part of those affected. Use of online interactive sessions, preferably using video calls so as not to miss out the non-verbal cues while listening are to be encouraged. Such sessions will allow those affected to voice out and share their worries and concerns. The peer/mentor could assist by spelling out coping lifestyle strategies with empathy and patience. Lastly and most importantly, the emphasis on seeking professional help must be actively encouraged where needed. 
  • Reciprocating buddies. There is an important role that can be played by friends (including family members in a similar role) and colleagues. A system of reciprocating buddies could be considered, to reach out to another. Effectively, this means that those affected reach out to help each other. Understandably most of us may not be trained along the lines of peer support but each of us can ‘listen’ with empathy (or at least hear our buddy out patiently and sympathetically). Buddies need to look out for each other, like a wingman in a formation, by encouraging the need for follow up of a daily routine, including exercise, and specifically asking questions about consumption of alcohol or substance use and encouraging to ‘seek help’ if there seem to be lingering doubts/conflicts during the conversations. This cannot be overemphasised that whenever the other sounds bleak or seems to be losing hope, there may be a need to seek help of peer support or professional mental health workers.
  • Speak out. Interactive sessions, whether with a peer/mentor or a buddy, are like a sounding board – sometimes speaking out what is weighing on the mind helps clear one’s mind. Moreover, when the one going through a phase of feeling low hears that it’s not her but the situation that is the cause of such feelings, it may help lessen the feelings of uncertainty and helplessness by knowing that there are others facing similar crisis and that better times lie ahead. Herein, positive experiences or happenings, when shared, will also help motivate one to stay strong and wait for the tide to turn. 

It is vital for each of us to remain alert about our situation and about those around us. We need to extend a helping hand, by lending our ears, to our colleagues and friends. All that one requires for this assistance is an empathetic attitude and an ability to listen. And lastly, if we are feeling ourselves sinking in the quicksand of our present life, we need to reach out – call the ones you trust – your family, your friends, your colleagues. We all are human, thus vulnerable, and yet can lean on each other when the times are bad.