(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

A new study from the United States Air Force found that almost half of drone aircraft operators report high amounts of stress from their jobs. However, the operators’ stress is actually from the long hours and constant shift changes, not from the work that they are doing.

Drone operators are responsible for flying aircrafts remotely in countries like Afghanistan by using computers and joysticks to control them. And as The New York Times reports, the survey of nearly 1,500 Air Force members found that 46 percent of Reaper and Predator pilots and 48 percent of Global Hawk sensor operators reported “high operational stress.” Another “[small] but still significant number — including a quarter of Global Hawk sensor operators” reported something called “clinical distress.” This is defined as having “anxiety, depression or stress severe enough to affect an operator’s job performance or family life.”

However, the researchers found that one portion of the drone operators’ jobs — having to watch close-up video of the people they killed with their drones — revealed “limited stress.”

“These guys are up above firing at the enemy,” explained study author Col. Kent McDonald to The Times. “They love that, they feel like they’re protecting our people. They build this virtual relationship with the guys on the ground.”
The real cause of stress for the operators, the authors found, is caused by long hours and frequent shift changes that have come from staff shortages in the department.

According to The Times, “The study did not include drone operators for the Central Intelligence Agency, which uses drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Iran.”

Source: The New York Times

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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