Due to growing support for the Peer Assistance Network (PAN) among both NZALPA members and aviation stakeholders, seven new volunteers have been recruited for the programme.
In early November the Peer Support Volunteers (PSVs) were hosted by the PAN Committee at NZALPA House for an intensive three-day initial training course.
Their learning was guided by prominent aviation medical professionals from the Air New Zealand Medical Team, the Civil Aviation Authority and the representatives from NZALPA’s welfare programmes. Presentations were supported by the experience and guidance of the PAN Coordinators Mark Mehlhopt and Herwin Bongers, PAN psychologist Allan Baker, Medical and Welfare Director Andy Pender and Women’s Assistance Coordinator Janet Taylor.
“The calibre of speakers we had at the PSV training shows how committed the industry is as a whole to support aviation professionals within that mental health and wellbeing space,” Pender says.
“I’m also thankful to our volunteers who showed such a commitment to help their fellow colleagues when times get tough.”
Neuropsychiatry consultant for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Dr Chris Kenedi spoke to the group on the first day, presenting on mental health as it specifically applies to the aviation industry.
“What Chris does so well is help our volunteers debunk any stigma around mental health issues and identify the different signs they should look out for,” Pender says.
“He also helps us all understand that depression, for example, is multi-faceted and can be broken down into many different forms.”
Kenedi’s presentation reveals the role of a PSV – being present, giving control back to the person, reducing stigma and strain.
“He also talks through the difference of sympathy and empathy, and how empathy can be far more effective when trying to help someone,” Pender says.
“As we always say, PAN is not about fixing a situation but offering a safe harbour for our colleagues to discuss the issues they are having.”
Training on the following days was accompanied by presentations by Dr Ben Johnson from the Air New Zealand Medical Unit, who spoke about the responsibility of the employer and defining suspension, and Dr Dougal Watson – the CAA’s Chief Medical Officer – who presented from the regulator’s perspective.
Simon Nicholson, a representative from HIMS, a programme for managing substance use disorders in aviation, and HIMS volunteer and PSV Brian Haybittle presented to the volunteers on how HIMS can help aviation professionals.
“It’s not only important that we prepare our volunteers with the necessary skills to fulfil their role, but also show them the depth of support on offer from the industry professionals,” Pender says.
“Ultimately we all want the same thing – safe and well pilots and air traffic controllers who can ensure the safety of the travelling public.”