How a man seeks to combat mental health in aviation | New times

Anxiety and another unknown stress-related illness that 26-year-old Felicien Izaturwanaho unexpectedly experienced during national high school exams sparked his interest in learning more about mental health.

Currently in the aviation industry, Izaturwanaho wishes to pursue “human factors”, citing that it is about combating mental health, in this case in aviation, to reduce the occurrence and impact. human errors in aviation systems and improve human performance. For example, a human factors specialist is trained to deal with issues such as fatigue and work-related stress.

“My interest in learning about human performance grew during the high school exam period. In 2013 during exams I suffered from anxiety and what I suspect to be another stress related illness. Unfortunately, it was not diagnosed by the doctors and no psychological test was done when I went to the hospital, ”he says.

Felicien Izaturwanaho presenting his research findings at a psychology conference in Boston, USA, 2019.

After passing the national exams, he went on to study clinical psychology at the University of Rwanda where he explored mental health issues. Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology that deals with the assessment and treatment of mental illness and behavioral problems.

“I wanted to understand how anxiety or stress-related issues can influence human performance. I thought that if I understood this, I could also help shape the mental health system in post-genocide Rwanda, ”says Izaturwanaho who was born after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

At university, he also headed the Association of Clinical Psychology Students in Rwanda (CPSAR). “I led the association to become a resource in mental health for Rwanda, in particular for the university community,” he says.

During his undergraduate studies, Izaturwanaho says he realized that there were few psychological assessment tests in Rwanda, including those that measure anxiety problems in children and adolescents. It was then that he thought of a psychological tool for psychodiagnosis in hospitals, clinical settings and research.

This test was probably not going to be due to the limitations of an undergraduate thesis. But he had to do something.

“That’s why I decided to use an existing test to measure anxiety and symptoms of related emotional disorders. I only validated the test on a Rwandan sample of individuals aged 8 to 17 in a certain school, ”he says.

The 26-year-old wants to contribute to safer aviation by focusing on human factors. Photos / Courtesy

The unique result of his study, he says, earned him an invitation to present the research in person at a major psychology conference in Boston, US, in 2019.

The theme of the conference was “Trauma, Recovery and Resilience: Charting the Way Forward”. His abstract was titled “Validation of the Screen for Children Anxiety and Related Emotional Disorders for Use in Rwanda”, which he presented at a symposium entitled “Identifying Mental Health Determinants in Rwandan Youth 25 Years Post-Genocide” at the conference.

Thanks to the experience, currently, the young graduate is also volunteering at the University of Rwanda-Mental Health Center as a researcher.

Enter the aviation industry

In 2018, Izaturwanaho says he got in touch with the AviAssist Foundation, an independent, international and impartial nonprofit organization that champions the cause of aviation safety in Africa, and heard about the mental health course in aviation they were planning in Rwanda. Then he managed to convince the university to add the course in 2018.

“The course was an impressive step in the aviation industry in Rwanda and for me personally. I played an important role in the development of cooperation between the University of Rwanda and the AviAssist Foundation, ”said Izaturwanaho.

“Curiosity and chance led me to undertake a career in the field of safety within the aviation industry. Since 2019, I have been working for the first AviAssist Africa Security Promotion Center (ASPC) in Rwanda, ”he says.

He is currently coordinator at the AviAssist Safety Promotion Center (ASPC) -Rwanda. ASPC-Rwanda supports the aviation industry in the capacity to promote safety in Rwanda and the region.

The center focuses on learning, research and experience for the pursuit of excellence.

“Research shows that pilots and other aviation personnel suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety. But the pilots keep the information secret because of the stigma and the fear of losing their license, ”he said.

According to reports, examples of planes that were deliberately crashed by pilots due to mental health issues are LAM Mozambique flight 470 in 2013 and Germanwings flight 9525 in 2015. Both crashes killed all passengers on board. .

Izaturwanaho’s training in psychology shows that he is keen to contribute to safer aviation by focusing on human factors.

However, he says, he needs significant support to realize this and is seeking financial support to be able to pursue a Masters in Human Factors in Aviation at Coventry University in the UK. Of the more than 21,000 euros needed to complete the training, he has only about 3,000 saved on his training allowance over the past two years.

“Therefore, I am fundraising through so that I can continue with the course. This is a two-year blended learning course that will be delivered with the support of its overseas hub in Rwanda for sub-Saharan Africa, ”he said, adding:“ I was due to start in September of. last year but I lacked the financial means.

It is reported that there are few mental health or human factors experts in aviation in Africa, and so far there are none in Rwanda.

Izaturwanaho could be among the few young people in a unique position to serve the aviation industry in Rwanda.

“As a university, we believe that it is our responsibility to train and qualify engineers and scientists in the field of aeronautics and aerospace in the field of air traffic management, that is a pool of skills that we lack in the country, ”explains Ignace Gatare, principal of the UR College of Science and Technology. This development will be accompanied by the introduction of human factors in aviation.

“These programs are designed to train competent air transport professionals. For these professionals, a strong appreciation of safety and human factors is an important skill. This is where my studies will come in handy, ”says Izaturwanaho.

He has also been trained in Aviation Mental Health, Human Factors in Aviation and Aviation Leadership Development in Rwanda, Fundamentals of Aviation Law by the Air Transport Association International (IATA) and Crew Resource Management in Kenya; and Human Factors and Aviation Safety Academy of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, among others.

Tom Kok, Director of AviAssist, says Rwanda is home to Africa’s premier aviation safety promotion center, playing a leading role in promoting aviation safety, adding that there is a need for trained people in the area.

“Improving safety means tackling human factors. Human error plays a role in the vast majority of aviation incidents and accidents. However, the study of human factors in Africa has been very limited so far. Izaturwanaho’s study on this topic will provide an opportunity to make significant progress in this regard in Rwanda and beyond, ”said Mr. Kok.

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