We may all be finding ourselves burdened by the stresses of coping with day to day life during the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic. Several doubts may be swirling in our heads without an answer in sight. This may be leaving us emotionally exhausted facing the realities of the changed lives. Our financial strains may be giving us sleepless nights. We may feel strains in relationships with our immediate family members or friends. We may have stopped finding joys in life. There may be a foreboding sense of gloom under changed circumstances. We may feel overwhelmed by anything and everything happening within or around us. If such is our state of mind, we must consider seeking help from our peers. This is not to say that one cannot cope with the situations, instead it is a call for seeking timely support from the proven system of peer support during the prevailing adversities due to COVID-19.
Peer support is a volunteer program by those engaging in similar profession. The peer helps the affected person deal with the precipitating stress – situational, emotional, financial, or such. When one is able to confide to another from similar professional background, it is easier to establish a rapport, hopefully with a willingness to trust the peer. The peer listens, without judging the person or her plight, and offers confidential assistance. One of best examples of such a peer support with proven positive outcomes is the ‘Human Intervention Motivation Study’ program for substance use among commercial pilots.
There are several well-established peer support programs in commercial aviation. For example, International Airline Pilots Association (IAFLPA) has Pilot Peer Support (PPS) and New Zealand has Peer Assistance Network New Zealand. Several leadings airlines have their own peer support programmes like British Airways’ and Qantas’ Pilot Assistance Network (PAN). Various Airlines in United States have the common International Pilot Peer Assist Coalition (IPPAC).
As per Santilhano et al.,  the “objective of peer support, according to the research, is to help contain the sense of overwhelm being experienced, helping individuals regain a sense of control over their situation, and identify ways to address their circumstances.” Based on their research on pilot peer support in commercial aviation, Santilhano et al., found that the role of a peer, premised on trust and being sensitive in nature, is such that:
- The “peers can relate, holding a shared perspective and understanding, enabling them to identify with the person in their context; and,
- The essence of the role is to listen, support, and, when appropriate, refer to specialized assistance.”
Peer support programs are “safe initial point of contact to share experiences and receive support” using “the curative power of talking” and “empathic listening” to empower an individual. Such peer support programs aim to detect mental health issues in a pilot seeking assistance, by providing advice and support to prevent, if possible, and to facilitate treatment, if required.
Therefore, those in aviation sector affected by the downturn caused by COVID-19 must understand that seeking timely support using available peer support program is to help them sustain through the prevailing bad weather. This will help them evolve healthy coping mechanism with resilience, and if unable to cope, guide them towards professional help. After all, one must remember – pilots, too, are human!
- Santilhano W, Bor R, Hewitt LMM. The Role of Peer Support and Its Contribution as an Effective Response to Addressing the Emotional Well-Being of Pilots: A Qualitative Study of South African Stakeholders. Aviation Psychology and Applied Human Factors 2019;9(2):67–76