How to Address Flight Attendant Burnout: Healthy Alternatives to Substances

By November 17, 2021Mental Health
airplane silhouette on air during sunset

The pandemic delayed travel plans for most people. As restrictions began to decrease, flight attendants witnessed an increase in passenger violence. The result of this aggression is a decline in mental health for many flight attendants. When anxiety, stress, and depression affect a person’s overall well-being, they often seek coping methods. Sometimes, their choices—like resorting to substance use—are unhealthy and damage their mental and physical health.

As a therapist, you are aware of the harmful effects that anxiety, stress, and depression can have on a person’s health. Your clients can struggle with finding healthy ways to work through their feelings. They may feel lost or hopeless with nowhere to turn. As their mental health guru, you can help them identify their stressors and guide them to a substance addiction program.

Results of Passenger Aggression

Over the past year, airlines have reported an increase in passenger aggression. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported over 2,500 cases of passenger aggression and violence since January 2021. Many of the events stem from passengers who refuse to comply with federal mask mandates. Flight attendants bear the brunt of frustration from passengers when asked to comply with the federal government’s rules.

Officials at the FAA confirm that since more people took to the air this year, airlines and flight attendants have dealt with significantly higher instances of aggression, sometimes leading to bodily harm. For example, a recent confrontation on an airplane resulted in a flight attendant losing two teeth after asking a passenger to comply with the mask mandate.

High Risk for Addiction

Flight attendants can experience elevated stress levels because of the nature of their jobs. They often experience irregular sleep patterns resulting from inconsistent work schedules. Some flight attendants turn to alcohol or prescription medication to help them adjust.

A study funded by American Airlines reported these events could also increase the risk of addiction:

  • Death or emergency incident on a flight or layover
  • Terrorism
  • Fire on the plane
  • Hijacking
  • Physical assault during a flight
  • Leaving their families

Flight attendants may not directly experience any of these events, but finding out about these alarming incidents on other flights can increase anxiety and depression. For example, Nas Lewis, a flight attendant from Chicago, said her colleagues confessed to engaging in self-harm and suicide idealization. Lewis also reports three flight attendants from a flight attendant support group committed suicide this year.

The Holidays

November and December are two of the busiest months for travel. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) provides daily checkpoint travel numbers over a three-year span. Compared to last year, the numbers have increased and will continue to grow as the holidays approach. Keeping track of the number of people traveling can help airlines and flight attendants anticipate patterns during the holidays. The FAA also provides holiday travel tips for those who want to know what to expect during their journeys. While the FAA’s travel tips can help travelers, flight attendants must prepare for the brunt of passenger aggression and frustration.

The TSA reports more people travel on Thanksgiving Day than most other holidays. What does this mean for flight attendants? First, there is a potential for a spike in an already high amount of passenger aggression. Furthermore, holiday travel may be impacted by an airline worker shortage. Many major airlines have enacted a COVID-19 vaccine mandate—and while a majority of airline workers are complying—some refuse to receive the vaccine. As a result, the company saw an increase in resignations since enforcing it. This worker shortage can have dangerous impacts on flight attendants; stressed-out travelers are experiencing delays and cancelations, which only fuels passenger aggression.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

There are options available for your client to address mental health and substance use disorders (SUD). You can guide them through the necessary steps to enter a detoxification or substance addiction treatment program tailored to their individual needs. Additionally, the Flight Attendant Drug and Alcohol Program (FADAP) can be helpful to your clients with a SUD.

Substance addiction in flight attendants is not uncommon, especially during the holiday season. A SUD can stem from the increase in passenger aggression experienced first-hand, news of violence on other flights, and additional stress it creates. As a result, burnout occurs, making substance addiction even more likely. Fortunately, both burnout and substance addiction are treatable. If this is the case for your client, guide them to a professional detox program. Rest assured that while your client is receiving care for addiction, they will also receive therapy.

High-stress jobs like being a flight attendant can increase the risk of substance addiction and mental health disorders. Post-pandemic travel brought significantly higher rates of verbal and physical abuse from passengers. Unfortunately, flight attendants bear the brunt of these attacks. While their job contains an elevated level of stress, passenger aggression adds an extra layer of stress, anxiety, and depression. The combination of passenger aggression and job-related stressors negatively impacts flight attendants. Because flight attendants are already considered a high-risk population for addiction, you can help your client recognize, process, or seek help through a detox program. Alta Centers, located in the Hollywood Hills, provides the care your client needs for their substance use disorder. Our location is easily accessible to flight attendants based in the greater Los Angeles area. We understand the difficulties your client faces as unruly passengers travel through the holidays and mask mandates. Alta Centers is available to discuss our programs. Call us at (888) 203-2583.

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