Can you be a Pilot with a history of Depression?

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In this blog, we will answer the question, “Can you be a pilot with a history of depression? and we will also cover what exactly depression and its symptoms are, what qualifies you to fly, and what does the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says, and answer frequently asked questions. 

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Can you be a Pilot with a History of Depression?

Yes, you can be a pilot with a history of depression if you are no longer experiencing any symptoms associated with depression and not taking any medications for a considerable amount of time but you need to undergo FAA approval which is quite comprehensive in nature.

We will discuss it in the later section but before that let us understand depression and its symptoms. 

Depression and its symptoms

Depression is a widespread disorder that affects 3.8 % of the world’s population, with 5% of adults and 5.7 % of persons over 60 years old suffering from depression. 

Depression is distinct from normal mood swings and short-term emotional responses to routine stressors. Depression can be dangerous to one’s health, especially if it is persistent and has a moderate or severe intensity.

It can make the individual who is affected suffer severely and perform poorly at their profession, school, and in the family. Depression can also lead to suicide. 

Depression is more than a feeling of sadness or of being “down.” Though depression and mourning have certain similarities, depression is distinct from grief following the death of a loved one or melancholy following a traumatic life event. Depression, on the other hand, typically involves self-loathing and a loss of self-esteem, but grief does not.

For different people, depression expresses itself in a variety of ways. It could cause disturbances in your daily routine, resulting in missed time and lower productivity. It can also affect relationships as well as some chronic conditions.

Depression is a serious mental condition that can worsen if not addressed appropriately.

Major depression can show up in a number of different ways. Some have an effect on your mental health, while others have an effect on your physical well-being. Symptoms might be constant or sporadic.

Common Symptoms of depression

You may be suffering from depression if you encounter some of the following signs and symptoms nearly every day for at least two weeks

  • Feeling depressed most of the day. Worse in the morning; gets better as the day goes on. Depression can be crushing, incapacitating, dominating, and fatal.
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to bring you joy
  • Social withdrawal. 
  • Fatigue, loss of energy.
  • Sleep patterns have shifted. Having difficulty falling asleep. Waking up 2 or more hours early in the morning and being unable to return to sleep. The tendency to sleep or lie down for most of the day.
  • Pain and anguish are pervasive, possibly leading to a sense of helplessness. Suicide is a serious threat if the situation becomes hopeless.
  • Thoughts about death, self-harm, suicide.
  • A significant difference in appetite, usually a decrease, with some weight loss as a result. 
  • Irritability 
  • Feelings of undeserved guilt, worthlessness, or sinfulness. 
  • Inability to concentrate or think clearly. 
  • Indecisiveness. 
  • Irrational thought patterns and reality misunderstanding
  • Depression can induce a variety of physical symptoms, including headaches, stomachaches, and backaches.
  • Agitation, pacing the floor, and reluctance to sit still are all common symptoms. Agitated depression is the term for this type of depression.
  • Although it is important to note that the symptoms of depression can be experienced differently among males, females, teens, and children.

Now that you are better, can you fly? 

To ensure the safety of the pilot and their passengers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strictly supervises a pilot’s physical and mental condition.

However, the rules reflect certain profound societal misunderstandings and, in some cases, prejudice, that still exist in the context of mental health issues.

Pilots suffering from depression may feel compelled to conceal their illness or forego therapy in order to preserve their careers. Yes, the requirements are stringent, and sustaining flight status is difficult. They do not, however, prevent someone with a mental illness from flying.

Even if you suffer from depression, you can become a pilot. Treatment alternatives and increased workplace understanding about mental health provide hope.

Pilots must have a medical certificate from an FAA aviation medical examiner in order to fly.

Depression, anxiety, and other similarly classified psychiatric illnesses do not automatically get you disqualified under the present standards.

The AME must decide if the mental health condition poses a risk to the individual’s safety. Their mission is to find mental health issues that affect:

  • judgment
  • emotional control, or
  • mental capacity with loss of behavioral control
  • Depression is not only the most common mental illness, but it is also the most treatable, with a success rate of 80-90 percent. All treatments are built on a foundation of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and psychopharmacology, which work in tandem.

Currently, the FAA does not certify those who take mood-altering medications. The reasons for this are twofold: the underlying disease that necessitates the treatment and the medication’s potential for undesirable side effects. The good news is that after effective therapy, the FAA is willing to allow practically all clinically depressed pilots to return to flying.

What does the Federal Aviation Administration say? 

When it comes to pilot medical certification, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has taken a unique approach. A significant policy change was made in 2010, allowing for special issuance consideration for people who take specific depression drugs. 

The FAA decided that the airspace is safer when pilots who are experiencing major mental health symptoms undergo treatment but are afraid to seek treatment for fear of jeopardizing their job security are treated appropriately and monitored routinely to ensure their sustained stability.

The FAA now authorizes four different medications known as the SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) to be used. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that aids in the transmission of information from one part of the brain to another. 

It is thought to have an impact on a number of psychological and physical functions. This contains cells in the brain that control mood, sexual desire, food, sleep, memory, and learning.

You will need to give the FAA a full descriptive summary of your medical history, treatment, and prognosis from your treating physician, ideally a psychiatrist. The letter must specify the type of therapy you received, as well as the medication name, dose, and frequency of usage, as well as the dates when it began and ended.

There should also be a statement about your present status once you’ve stopped using the drug. You will still need to produce that same type of letter for FAA review if you were diagnosed with depression but not treated with antidepressant medication but instead with counseling/therapy with your psychiatrist or psychologist.

The FAA will want a much more extensive review from a psychiatrist or psychologist who is well acquainted with the FAA certification regulations if you have a more serious depressive history that requires long-term drug therapy.

An individual may be considered for an FAA Authorization of a Special Issuance (SI) or Special Consideration (SC) of a Medical Certificate (Authorization) if:

The applicant has one of the following diagnoses:

  • Major depressive disorder (mild to moderate) either single episode or recurrent episode
  • Dysthymic disorder
  • Adjustment disorder with depressed mood
  • Any non-depression related condition for which the SSRI is used
  • For a minimum of 6 continuous months prior, the applicant has been clinically stable as well as on a stable dose of medication.

The SSRI used is one of the following (single use only):

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)

The applicant DOES NOT have symptoms or history of:

  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Treatment with multiple SSRIs concurrently
  • Multi-agent drug protocol use (prior use of other psychiatric drugs)

If an applicant meets all of the above criteria and desires to continue taking the SSRI, a Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) Aviation Medical Examiner must evaluate him or her further (AME).

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Can you be a Pilot with a History of Depression?

What are the mental health requirements of a Pilot? 

Depending on the pilot’s age, the FAA requires airline pilots to have a medical checkup by an FAA-approved physician known as an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) every six or twelve months. 

First Officers (co-pilots) must have a first-class medical certificate, whereas Captains must have a second-class medical certificate. Most, if not all, U.S. airlines require all of their pilots to have a first-class medical certificate. 

If the pilot is under the age of 40, a first-class medical certificate must be renewed every year, and every six months if the pilot is 40 or older. Every year, a second-class medical certificate is refreshed. Third-class medical certificates are required for general aviation pilots.

What disqualifies you from being a pilot?

Any convictions involving alcohol or drugs in your background will automatically disqualify you. While not all crimes will preclude you from obtaining a private pilot’s license, they will almost certainly hinder you from pursuing a career as an airline pilot.

Can you be a pilot with anxiety?

Ans- After certain conditions are met, the FAA will consider certifying pilots and controllers who have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety and treated with medication.

Can you be a pilot with ADHD?

Because of the threats that ADHD poses to flight safety, regulatory bodies around the world consider ADHD to be a disqualifying condition for pilots. Unfortunately, some pilots neglect to tell their Aviation Medical Examiner about their ADHD (AME).

Can you be a pilot with food allergies?

A common allergy isn’t a deal-breaker. If you take medication on a regular basis, you may need to adjust or stop taking it once you start flying (e.g. many allergy medicines cause drowsiness). 

Can you be a pilot with asthma?

For histories of asthma that cause only minor, seasonal symptoms, the FAA grants certification in all classes. On a case-by-case basis, the use of most inhaler drugs is permissible.

References

Banks, A. (2021, December 10). Pilots Face A Mental Health Dilemma: Ask For Help Or Keep Your Job. Medium.

https://medium.com/@adambanks_139/pilots-face-a-mental-health-dilemma-ask-for-help-or-keep-your-job-2c186f28039d#_ftn1

Depression. (2021, September 13). What Is Depression? 

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

Higuera, V. (2021, November 1). Everything You Need to Know About Depression (Major Depressive Disorder). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression#symptoms

Just for the Health of Pilots (faa.gov)

Mental health as an aviation safety consideration. (2020). Legal & Medical Services (PPS) | AOPA. https://pilot-protection-services.aopa.org/news/2017/june/01/mental-health-as-an-aviation-safety-consideration

Nash, S. L. (2022, February 25). Can I Be a Pilot if I Have Depression? Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/depression/faa-still-stigmatizes-depression-mental-illness#looking-ahead

Pilot Training: Can I become a Pilot if I have Depression? (2021, July 13). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlsHRYByu1A

What Is Depression? (2020). Web Starter Kit. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

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