Photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic transformed her industry, Nastassja (Nas) Lewis knew firsthand that the Flight Attendant lifestyle could take a toll on a person’s mental health. As she says on the website of th|AIR|apy, an organization that began as a Facebook Group and become a professional non-profit [501(c)(3)] organization in 2020:
“I set up th|AIR|apy when I was really suffering with my own mental health. My depression, anxiety, and PTSD was terrible, I knew I was depressed. I knew that there were other Flight Attendants & people out there like me, I just didn’t know how to meet them. So, I created this peer support group and resources that allows people to talk together without fear or judgment and connect with each other.
th|AIR|apy’s stated mission is to promote and advocate for Flight Attendant mental health and emotional well-being.
As we head into the second holiday season of the global pandemic, it’s obvious that the physical and mental challenges faced by Flight Attendants are more severe than ever. Flight Attendants are our frontline workers in the skies. Unruly passengers have made flying more physically dangerous than ever. Staff shortages have created added pressure. And that’s on top of all the regular challenges of jet lag, flight cancellations, schedule changes, family and personal issues, and more.
As one recent post on th|AIR|apy’s Facebook page began: “Our uniforms are the perfect cover of glamour and this fast lifestyle. But underneath it all we are struggling with so much.”
In the spirit of giving thanks, I wanted to personally thank all the world’s Flight Attendants for the job they do every day. And I wanted to ask Nas Lewis a few questions about her non-profit—and how we all might help the Flight Attendant community in this season of giving.
Q&A with th|AIR|apy founder Nastassja (Nas) Lewis
What prompted you to start th|AIR|apy in 2019?
I started th|AIR|apy as a Facebook page three years ago after dealing with a really bad year of depression, anxiety, and self harm. I always knew Flight Attendants to be close knit group but we are also very private. I wanted to know if I was struggling alone in the industry and the formation of this group changed all that and made it abundantly clear that I wasn’t. In 2019 th|AIR|apy became the first Flight Attendant Mental Health nonprofit to raise awareness and help Flight Attendants prioritize their mental health and provide a way for Flight Attendants to feel supported by each other no matter where they are in the world. It is a success that Flight Attendants are able to come to this organization to understand their struggles are recognized. Healing and resources can be given, and to know their colleagues are there to give them support in their moment of distress has proven vital.
How has the pandemic multiplied the stresses on flight attendants?
The pandemic has changed the face of aviation. Due to the strenuousness of travel and going from the lack of demand to increased demand, aviation has been on a roller coaster. The news, the videos, the violence, the anxiousness, delays, minimum rest, staff shortages, and the overload of schedules has put a strain on Flight Attendants. Aviation has changed in ways we haven’t seen since 9/11. Now that the world is becoming further vaccinated, many are feeling the courage to travel again, but it doesn’t come without the anxiety for travelers as they get back into the swing of traveling and all the “how-to’s” that come with it, from reservations to TSA screening to delays and cancellations and, of course, seating. The videos of our colleagues being physically and verbally abused have caused our profession to take pause and protect ourselves. We are now not just safety professionals, but also bodyguards, babysitters, punching bags, and debate teams. We want our profession back and the respect that comes with being safety professionals.
How has the th|AIR|apy community grown since the pandemic began?
th|AIR|apy has grown over 90% since the pandemic began. Flight Attendants from all over the world were searching for a sense of community and belonging. A feeling to belong to a group or organization that understands their plight. A place where they can vent freely, in a non-judgmental environment, and they found support, mental health resources, and understanding within the th|AIR|apy organization.
What are the most common mental health issues you hear about?
Symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and burnout are at an all-time high. Flight Attendants around the world are being subjected to more pushback and violence than we have seen in times past. So many have also lost family members due to this pandemic, and in our job it isn’t easy to take time off no matter the reason unless you simply have no choice. The aviation industry is behind on mental health advocation and the th|AIR|apy organization is leading that mission, whilst constantly asking Flight Attendants to practice what we preach which is to, “Put your mask on before helping others.” Taking time off and choosing yourself is cause for much anxiety in aviation and we hope this pandemic brings about much needed change in that right.
What do Flight Attendants want and need from passengers right now?
We implore passengers to pack their kindness and respect. We are here to offer you a service and be cognizant of your safety. We care about you. Give us a chance to give to you and make your travel experience worthwhile, while still keeping your well-being in mind. Please consider our mental health and our sacrifices. We need your cooperation. Let’s work together and actually SEE each other. Our jurisdiction starts at the boarding door, recognize our worth and how it can benefit your time with us. We hide our depression, anxiety, loss, issues of many kinds behind our smiles and well-pressed uniforms. Don’t forget we are human too.
You have launched a fundraiser for “Giving Tuesday.” Can you tell us about that?
#GivingTuesday is coming up on November 30th! Help us raise $50,000 to fund the th|AIR|apy Helpline, mental health education in aviation, and advocacy. th|AIR|apy is hard at work to push the launch of the th|AIR|apy Helpline, which serves Flight Attendants in distress or just simply needing to vent, providing them access to free 24/7 support and information they need. th|AIR|apy Helpline will be the only nationwide, free, 24/7/365 text line in aviation. No other response organization converses with Flight Attendants via text. This helpline will serve them nationally and internationally, at all hours of the day, all days of the week, and all weeks of the year, for free, but we need your support. We ask your support to keep this a staple within aviation, helping to save the lives of the eyes and ears of the skies. You can donate to our organization at this link: th|AIR|apy Your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Every little bit helps. Thank you for your support of Flight Attendants mental health and advocacy.
What are your hopes for 2022?
The world as we knew it will never go back to what it was, but we can together do all we can to make it better as we move forward. th|AIR|apy’s goal is to be a well respected and necessary nonprofit organization that is utilized in aviation. We hope to give airlines mental health data about Flight Attendants to make for change in policy, and mental health support. Flight Attendants are vital to aviation, and them having a place to call their own and feel no shame for their mental health struggles within th|AIR|apy is a mission worth pushing in the year to come.
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