Having a family member with a mental health condition can affect everyone in the family. The resulting stress may impact your ability to fly safely. Even if you feel you are capable of handling the situation, it is normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes.
Our response is the only thing we can control. Remember to utilize the FAA “I’M SAFE” checklist:
- Illness: Do I have any symptom?
- Medication: Have I been taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs?
- Stress: Am I under psychological pressure from the job? Am I worried about financial matters, health problems, or family discord?
- Alcohol: Have I been drinking within eight hours?
- Fatigue: Am I tired and not adequately rested?
- Emotion: Am I emotionally upset?
Pilot Peer Support
If you are dealing with a family member with mental illness or struggling with your own mental health, we recommend contacting ALPA Pilot Peer Support. Pilot Peer Support (PPS) connects ALPA members with trained pilot peers to talk about any personal or professional problems you may be experiencing. PPS volunteers listen and offer confidential, nonjudgmental support. Speak with a PPS peer about any concerns that may threaten your medical certificate, career, and life. Peers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact PPS.
Leaves and Time Off
Caring for a family member with mental illness can be unpredictable and include crisis situations. When immediate time off is necessary, your chief pilot office is your best resource.
Family Medical Leave Act
Leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may be available to care for a family member with a serious mental illness. Refer to our FMLA page for more information.
State Sick and State Paid Family Leave Refer to our State Sick and State Paid Family Leave page for more information.
Some companies will recommend using all contractual means of schedule modification (e.g., vacation, swap with the pot, personal drop, swap with another pilot, etc.). Guidance to obtain time off is available in your collective bargaining agreement or flight operations manual. If unable to obtain time off through contractual means, contact your pilot manager as early as possible for assistance.
Pass Travel and Jumpseat Privileges
Your pass travel privileges may be allowed to be used during most leaves relevant to caring for a family member with mental illness. Contact your employer for information. Note, travel while on sick leave may require the consent of the chief pilot. The jumpseat is available to pilots on active payroll status who are not sick.
Most passenger airlines may allow priority non-revenue booking for family emergencies. Contact your employer for more information.
The following information and resources may be helpful for your specific family situation. The information contained herein is provided as a service to the pilot community and does not constitute an endorsement of any specific agency, business or organization. ALPA makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about any specific agency, and pilots should conduct their own due diligence.
Mental Health Conditions
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “a mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day.” Research suggests that genetics, environment, and lifestyle influence whether someone will develop a mental health condition. NAMI reports that 1 in 5 adults experience a mental health condition every year, while 1 in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Mental health conditions include:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
- Anxiety Disorders,
- Bipolar Disorder,
- Borderline Personality Dis* order,
- Dissociative Disorders,
- Dual Diagnosis,
- Eating Disorders,
- Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD),
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),
- Schizoaffective Disorder,
- Self-harm, and
Mental Health Providers
The following resources can help you find mental health providers for your family members. Remember to contact AMAS before finding mental health treatment for yourself.
Employee Assistance Programs
An employee assistance program (EAP) may be available at your airline. Be advised, EAP is a great resource for family members; however, pilots should contact ALPA Aeromedical before contacting EAP for their own mental health issues. EAP is not aviation-savvy, and in the current FAA environment, EAP may unwittingly jeopardize a pilot’s medical certificate inappropriately through diagnostic brinksmanship or careless use of terminology.
Mental Health Resources
Centers for Disease Control provides helpful information on mental health issues and has statistical information about various conditions. Learn more.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH) has the mission of transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illness. Learn more.
Mental Health and Advocacy Organizations
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a multifaceted organization made up of scientists, survivors of suicide loss, people with mental disorders and their families, and a network of business and community leaders. Their mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by ADHD.
Children’s Mental Health Network promotes and advocates for the availability and effectiveness of high-quality services for children with mental health needs and their families.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance provides hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.
Families for Depression Awareness is a national nonprofit organization helping families recognize and cope with depression and bipolar disorder to get people well and prevent suicides.
Mental Health America is an advocacy, education, and support organization working to address the needs of people with mental health related needs and mental illness. Learn more.
National Alliance on Mental Illness is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for those affected by mental illness. Local NAMI chapters nationwide offer free, evidence-based classes and support groups for family members of loved ones living with mental illness. Sign up for a class.
Suicide Prevention Resource Center is the nation’s only federally supported resource center devoted to advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.
Mental Health Crisis Services
Crisis Text Line connects every texter with a trained crisis counselor, a real-life human being trained to bring texters from a hot moment to a cool calm through active listening and collaborative problem solving. All of Crisis Text Line’s crisis counselors are volunteers, donating their time to helping people in crisis. Text “hello” or “help” to 741741.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. Call 1-866-488-7386.
If you are calling 911, be sure to tell the operator that it is a “mental health emergency” and ask for emergency responders with Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, if available. First responders will approach a mental health situation differently if they know what to expect and are trained in CIT. For example, they will try to deescalate the situation if they are aware of a mental health emergency and trained in CIT. Learn more.
A significant percentage of those struggling with mental health disorders have a dual diagnosis of addiction and mental illness. Refer to the FIG Addiction/Substance Use Disorders page for more information.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dedicated to addiction and mental health. Their website includes a search feature that can aid you in finding behavior health treatment centers that meet certain mental health criteria in your area. Learn more.
Children and Adolescents with Mental Illness
Half of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75 percent of mental health conditions develop by age 24. Early engagement and support are crucial to improving outcomes and increasing recovery.
NAMI Basics is a free, 6-week education program for parents and family caregivers of children and teens who are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness or whom have already been diagnosed. Learn more.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities including emotional disturbance and mental health disorders. Learn more.
An Unquiet Mind: Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison
I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help! How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment, by Xavier Amador
Making the System Work for Your Child with ADHD, by Peter S. Jensen
Lonely, Sad and Angry, by Barbara Ingersoll and Sam Goldstein PhD
Straight Talk About Your Child’s Mental Health: What to do When Something Seems Wrong, by Stephen V. Faraone
Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual, by E. Fuller Torrey
The Bipolar Child, by Demitri Papolor MD and Janice Papolos
When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness: A Handbook for Family, Friends and Caregivers, by Rebecca Woolis
Why we all need to practice emotional first aid: Dr. Guy Winch explains why we need to take our emotional health as seriously as we take our physical health.
My son was a Columbine shooter: Sue Klebold examines the link between mental health, violence and suicide.
A tale of mental illness from the inside: Dr. Elyn Saks tells her story of living with schizophrenia and asks us to see people with mental illness clearly, honestly and compassionately.