Can a person with a history of depression be a pilot?

By

Author bio

Page last updated: 22/10/2022

In this article, it will be discussed if a person with depression can be a pilot. For that, it will discuss what depression is, its main symptoms, how that impacts a pilot’s life, and what a person with a depression history should pay attention to when working as a pilot.

The article will also answer what are the requests a person has to fill to become an airplane pilot, and what are things that will prevent a person from becoming a pilot.

Can a person with a history of depression be a pilot?

Yes, a person with a history of depression can be a pilot. Although some mental illnesses will prevent a person from becoming a pilot, like psychosis, bipolar disorder, and personality disorders, depression is not one of them.

A person with a history of depression can study for it, take all the necessary tests and when they are done try to look for a job in that field. But more important than if a person with a history of depression can be a pilot, is if they feel healthy and ready to be a pilot. 

If that is your dream, you can start with classes, try to explore the field, and learn as much as you can about it. Discover what the routine of a pilot is like, if you feel it’s something you are up to, focus on your dream.

While doing that, remember that being a pilot is a demanding career, it is an extremely stressful one, in which it is hard to have a routine and keep a regular healthy schedule. Those things need to be considered since having a history of depression is an important risk factor to a person developing depression again.

What are depression and its main symptoms?

Depression is a mental illness that is characterized by intense sadness, loss of meaning and purpose in life, helplessness, diminished sense of self-worth and self-esteem. It can be caused for multiple reasons, it can be because of family history, or because the person is going through some traumatic experience such as divorce or loss of a loved one.

Another factor that may cause a person to develop depression is their mental history. A person with a history of depression usually has a higher risk of developing it again, than a person who never had it before.

There are many symptoms of depression, and they change depending on the intensity and from one person to another. But the appearance of symptoms is what is most important to define if a person is depressed. Specialists say that for depression to be characterized a person has to go through its symptoms intensely for two weeks.

Can a person with a history of depression be a pilot?

The symptoms of depression can be psychological or physical. They can be:

  • Change in eating patterns
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Intense crying or difficulty crying even when there is a reason to cry
  • Feeling constantly guilty
  • Doing things at a slower pace as before
  • Lack of energy to do even the simplest of things
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Feeling more irritable
  • The surge of pains a person didn’t have frequently before, such as back pain, headaches
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Thoughts of death or planning on committing suicide

What are the risks of being a pilot while treating depression?

Being depressed is something that can have a huge impact on a person’s life. It might not be possible for them to continue doing things as they did before. If you are a pilot, living with depression may be as hard as trying to keep working in any other field, but they might have some particularities that a person needs to consider.

If a pilot gets depressed, depending on their symptoms it can be very hard to maintain their job routine. When a person is depressed they might experience changes in their sleeping patterns, aside from that, depression can make a 

a person self-isolates and takes a lot of their energy.

So for a pilot that is going through depression to be surrounded by people all the time and to have hectic working hours can be a problem. They might not be able to deal with the long hours of work, the time difference between one place and the other, and that can impact, in the long hall, their emotional condition.

With that said, if a pilot feels depressed, they should look for professional help right away, especially in airlines, they usually have a department directed to helping pilots and other employees with mental health matters. This can help the pilot to feel supported and if they follow the treatment properly, it might be possible to keep your work life and deal with depression.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Can a person with a history of depression be an airplane pilot?

What will not allow you to become a pilot?

A person won’t be able to become a pilot if they fail their exams, which won’t allow them to get their pilot license, and if they don’t have enough flying hours under their belt to allow them to obtain the license.

Another thing that will prevent you from getting a pilot license is having a criminal record. The question here is if you have a small misdemeanor, you might be able to get a license, but it might be hard for you to get a job as a pilot, but if you have more serious offenses, while they do your background check, you will be disqualified to be a pilot.

Being too your may also be a cause for not being allowed to get your license. You have to be at least 18 to try to get a commercial pilot certification, but if you want to be an airline, it might happen only when you are 23 or older. Now if you want to be a student, you can start it at age 16.

Some health matters will not allow you to become a pilot, those are: 

  • Diabetes
  • Use of permanent heart pacemaker
  • Epilepsy
  • Psychosis

What are the medications that can be taken by a pilot?

The rules about the medications a pilot can take are constantly changing. Nowadays,  they can take decongestants mid-flight and it will be okay. Although they won’t be allowed to take first-generation antihistamines, such as Diphenhydramine, because a pilot wouldn’t be able to fly 60 hours after taking the medication.

On the other hand, they are allowed to take second-generation antihistamines, such as desloratadine, loratadine, and fexofenadine; those medications can be used while flying. 

As for sedative medication, as long as they know how long the medication is active for, and consider their flying time, they can be taken. When talking about dietary supplements, such as melatonin, the pilots can use it, as long as they don’t have side effects from them.

In the case of mental health medication, normally a person can be disqualified by using any sort of antidepressants, but in some cases, there might be special requests and pilots may only use one of these four medications: fluoxetine, sertraline, citalopram, or escitalopram.

Do disabilities prevent me from becoming a pilot?

Nowadays the policies have been changing all over the globe. The aviation industry has been trying to be more inclusive and do changes so people with disabilities can work in the field. The most important thing is, if the adaptations are possible, the person reaches a satisfactory standard in their physical and medical evaluation.

It is possible to find, nowadays, people with ADHD, dyslexia, or dysphagia. What is important here is if the person can pass their test and has enough flying hours experience. In this case, if a person can’t be a part of the flying team, if a person still wants to be a part of the aviation industry, there are many land jobs.

What is evaluated about your mental health for you to be a pilot?

The American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in assessing if someone is fit to be a pilot, will do a medical application in which questions about the person’s mental health will be included. As the person reveals his medical history, the agents may ask for more information around previous episodes, medications that we’re taking, and the current state of treatment.

If a person discloses a few medical conditions, such as psychosis, bipolar disorder, and severe personality disorder, they won’t be allowed to get their pilot’s license. But, if a pilot has a condition that can be treated, they will be able to get the license and report about their condition frequently.

Is depression common among airline pilots?

Yes, it is quite common to find an airline pilot going through depression, although they might not always look for professional help. A study was done with 3.278 commercial pilots, who answered anonymously a questionnaire that detected depression in 426. When it came to the 1.798 pilots that answered more detailed questions, it shows that 75 of them had self-harming thoughts.

In the research it was also shown that pilots who experience harassment and use medication to help them sleep are more susceptible to depressive symptoms, along with that, women pilots had more chance to develop depression.

Conclusion

In this article, it was discussed that a person with a history of depression may be able to become an airplane pilot, but that airlines might have problems hiring people that are still treating depression. The article also explained that people with a history of depression are a risk group for developing depression again at some point in their life. 

It showed that it might be important to consider carefully if a person wants to be an airplane pilot since that is a high-level stress job, that a person hardly has the chance to have a healthy and stable routine, and what are important things for people with depression when working as a pilot.

The article also discussed what are other factors that might influence the ability of a person to become an airplane pilot.

If you have any questions or suggestions based on this article, feel free to write them in the space below.

References

Wu, A.C., Donnelly-McLay, D., Weisskopf, M.G. et al. Airplane pilot mental health, and suicidal thoughts: a cross-sectional descriptive study via anonymous web-based survey. Environ Health; 2016: 15, 121.

Durham J, Bliss T. Depression and anxiety in Pilots: A qualitative study of SSRI usage in U.S. Aviation and evaluation of FAA standards and practices compared to ICAO States. Collegiate Aviation Review International, 2019; 37(2):78-109.

https://www.faa.gov/newsroom/pilot-mental-fitness