Mental Health and Well-Being Curriculum

BACKGROUND: Aircraft pilots function in highly complex, safety-critical environments that demand high cognitive and physical performance This requires pilots to maintain adequate physical and mental wellbeing. The topic of wellbeing in aviation is growing due to

(1) evolving data demonstrating its role in performance,

(2) increasing relevance following the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on wellbeing and mental health, and

(3) factors such as pilot burnout and retention rates. However, while the importance of aviator well being is becoming increasingly clear, many collegiate aviation training programs lack formal wellbeing and mental health curriculum, i.e. non-technical skills (NTS). 

OVERVIEW: To fill this gap, we are going to propose a performance-centered mental health and wellbeing curriculum catering to aviation instructors who in turn will be able to recognize and guide student pilots. The curriculum includes four virtual modules designed to complement an established technical flight training program:

(1) fundamentals of sleep,

(2) nutrition for wellness and performance,

(3) exercise science for aviators, and

(4) mindfulness tailored for aviators.

The relevance of such a program was demonstrated through  survey results from collegiate aviation students where ninety-four percent noted that mental health and wellbeing training can positively address their general health and wellbeing.

DISCUSSION: The importance of wellbeing in aviators is becoming increasingly clear and the proposed performance center curriculum. The aim is to provide student pilots with critical tools to build and maintain their wellbeing through their aviation career. It is hypothesized that building of wellbeing skills can positively improve operational safety and efficiency by expanding the skill sets of pilots. 

NTS training supports the operational safety and efficiency of civilian, international, and military aviation spheres. Within the civilian and international sphere, NTS training may boost safety and performance in unexpected situations through improved teamwork and communication. Future research questions could include the impact of curriculum on (1) performance outcomes, (2) airline cost savings due to burnout, and (3) overall mental and physical health promotion.