How much control do you have over your mental health?

Can You Join the Army with a History of Depression?

In this blog post, we will address the question, “can you join the army with a history of depression?” and understand more about medical waivers. Further, we will look into other disqualifying psychological conditions and what the medical assessment entails. Finally, we will find out what the current scenario regarding mental health in the military community is.

Can You Join the Army with a History of Depression?

Yes, you can join the army with a history of depression, according to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Let us see how.

Persons with depressive disorders will not be disqualified unless they sought outpatient care that went on for more than a year or any inpatient care. Further, for 36 months, they must be stable, symptom-free, and should not have sought treatment. If they meet the said criteria, they are allowed to enlist. However, a history of depression does lower one’s chances of joining the army.  

Typically, a person needs to be mentally and physically stable to join the military. Therefore, a person currently exhibiting depressive symptoms or is diagnosed with depression will be immediately disqualified. With that said, it has become common for people to circumvent the rules and join the army. 

Bending the rules could be deemed wrong for many reasons, apart from being immoral. Having mental health conditions, such as depression, can tarnish one’s reputation if they enlist. It could prevent growth in their career, which is strongly desirable for all professions, but specifically, the military. 

Medical Waivers

In 2017, the army lifted a ban on waiver grants to individuals with a history of mental health conditions looking to join the forces.

With the increased availability of information and records on mental health, the army decided to lift the ban, which had come into force in 2009 during an epidemic of suicide among military members. With this implementation, people with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, self-harm, and substance abuse could enlist. 

The risks, such as resurfacing of issues for people with a history of mental health conditions resulting from accepting such recruits, were also acknowledged. While bipolar disorder may be kept in check with proper medication, self-harm indicates a far deeper-rooted issue. Self-harm in a military setting could disrupt the unit. It could alert the need for immediate medical evacuation from a war zone based on the assumption of attempted suicide.

Further, the applicant with a history of self-mutilation must provide the necessary documentation to claim the medical waiver. The requirements include medical records, detailed statements, evidence from an employer to understand if the injury was related to their job, photos submitted by the recruiter, and a psychiatric clearance following an evaluation.

Because of the availability of detailed information, officials can consider recruits as an entire being. This consideration allows several leaders and medical professionals to evaluate the case carefully. Such an evaluation would help them understand the applicant’s ability to undergo training and have a successful career. 

Side Note: I grew this blog to over 500,000 monthly pageviews and it now finances our charitable missions. If you are looking to start a blog as a source of income or to help your community then view our how to start a blog guide.

What Are some other Disqualifying Psychological Conditions?

As per the directives of the DoD, one is disqualified from enlisting based on any current diagnoses or a history of most mental illnesses. 

Firstly, the presence of any condition with psychotic symptoms, such as schizophrenia, prohibits one from serving.

Secondly, those with other mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder (with or without psychotic symptoms) are disqualified. 

For those with anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, disqualification criteria are the same as those given for depressive disorders (see above).

Those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be a cause for disqualification if they have received treatment for the same within the last 24 months, or it has been considerably present since they were 14 years old. Those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are also disqualified.

Further, problems with conduct, including impulse control disorder, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), or other antisocial issues that get them in trouble with the law, could be a reason for disqualification. Moreover, those with personality traits and behaviors deemed to interfere with military adjustments may be disqualified. 

Other psychological conditions that could get one disqualified are as follows. A history of:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • Somatoform disorder;
  • Posttraumatic disorder
  • Adjustment disorder within the last six months (or recurrent episodes);
  • Depersonalization;
  • Dissociative, conversion, or factitious disorder
  • Substance abuse or dependence;
  • Suicidal ideations or attempts

Additionally, those with a history of an expressive or receptive language delay, eating disorders (e.g., anorexia, bulimia), and encopresis after turning 13 years old can be disqualified.

What Does the Medical Assessment Entail?

Physical assessments are done to evaluate the fitness of the enlistee. They must be able to endure the training and military challenges. If there are any physical disqualifications found during the evaluation, they may be barred from joining the army. 

Before conducting a thorough assessment, the outer clothing of the enlistee is removed. For female candidates, a female attendant accompanies them during clothing removal, and underclothing is mandatory.

The medical evaluation consists of an assessment of:

  • Height and weight;
  • Hearing and vision;
  • Muscle group and joint maneuvers, in underclothing;
  • Urine and blood test;
  • Drug and alcohol test;
  • Thorough physical examination and interview; and
  • A specialized test, if deemed necessary.

The technician provides instructions on the completion of a questionnaire regarding medical history before the physical examination. The enlistee should discuss with their parents regarding childhood difficulties and other medical problems before going to the Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS).

Further, female candidates will be provided a drape or gown during the MEPS physical examination. They will also be required to take a pregnancy test. 

The British army has similar military medical standards.

Current Scenario Regarding Mental Health in the Military Community

According to a study, one-fourth of the non-deployed forces in the U.S. had mental health conditions, ranging from ADHD and panic disorder to depression. Two-thirds of these forces had their psychological difficulties even before enlisting. 

These figures indicate the current scenario of people circumventing the rules in place, which prohibit people with mental health issues from enlisting. The same study found that more than 10% of the enlistees had comorbidities (i.e., at least two disorders). One of the most common disorders found was intermittent explosive disorder, which is related to inappropriate anger outbursts.

It is still unclear how people are skirting these regulations, although what is known is that they have an attitude of “if they do not ask, I do not have to tell.” 

What people fail to understand is that, by not following these rules, they are putting themselves in harm’s way. For example, the same study reported unsatisfactory performances by enlistees who had mental health challenges. 

Further, the condition would probably worsen considering the workload, routine, potential triggers, and tremendous responsibility not just for oneself but also for other members. These problems are exacerbated as it is unlikely that they will get to seek appropriate treatment because of the rules in place. 

Many military professionals do indeed have a smooth career having to not engage in combat. However, a person with a history of depression or a current depressive episode is still signing up for the worst-case scenario praying it does not come to that.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Conclusion

In this blog post, we answered the question, “can you join the army with a history of depression?” and learned more about medical waivers. Then,  we listed out other disqualifying psychological conditions and found out what the medical assessment entails. Finally, we touched upon the current scenario regarding mental health in the military community.

It is not possible for people with a history of depression to apply for enlistment unless they meet certain criteria. Even in the case of eligibility, it is best to reconsider application as this profession may pose many threats to their wellbeing as well as those around them. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Can You Join the Army with a History of Depression?

Are you eligible for a military waiver for depression?

Yes, it is possible to apply for a medical waiver in case of a history of depression. A history of depression is typically classified as a permanent disqualification. However, “permanent” does not certainly mean one can never join the military. It is possible to enlist with an approved medical waiver.

The Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) doctor indicates on the medical form whether a medical waiver is required in a particular case. After certain considerations, the military recommendation is made, post which MEPS is carried out along with the medical waiver process.

Is it safe to take antidepressants in the army?

Yes, it is safe. Antidepressants, apart from anticonvulsants, are medications that are commonly prescribed to members of the military. It has been reported that 17% of active-duty members and 6% of deployed troops are on antidepressants. 

What are the disqualifying factors for the military?

It is possible to get disqualified because of several factors. Although many physical conditions do not mean permanent disqualifications, they could be red flags. Some of the factors include issues such as:

Damage to blood and blood-forming tissues
Gastrointestinal system issues
Dental problems
Auditory or ear-related conditions
Disorders of the upper or lower extremities
Endocrine and metabolic disorders
Vision and eye-related issues
Genitalia problems
Issues related to the urinary system

Is it possible for your only child to get drafted?

The sole survivor policy protects “only sons/daughters,” “the last son/daughter to carry the family name,” and “sole surviving sons/daughters” only during the absence of war (peacetime). This policy is voluntary, and therefore, one needs to apply for the same and get it approved before being sent home. 

Can anxiety disqualify you from the army?

Yes, it is possible to get disqualified on the grounds of anxiety provided it meets the criteria for severity and amenability to treatment. 

Can a person with autism join the army?

No, it is typically not possible for people with autism to join the army. However, the Defense Department accession policy occasionally grants medical waivers after consultation with the DoD behavioral health consultant. 

Do drug tests detect antidepressants?

No, common urine drug tests do not detect antidepressants as they are not deemed abusive drugs. With that said, in the event of cross-reactions, false positives may appear for prescription drugs with similar chemical properties to the substance that are supposed to be detected by the test. For example, Wellbutrin and Prozac may show up as amphetamines.

Is it possible to seek psychological help in the army?

Yes, the DoD provides a free service known as Military OneSource for military members and their families. This service help can be sought for various issues, including psychological and emotional concerns. They have a 24-hour tollfree number, which is 1-800-342-9647.

Is there an age limit for joining the military?

Yes, one needs to be at least 17 years of age to enlist in any active army department. The upper cap for enlisting in active duty is dependent on the branch. For example,

Marines: 28 
Coast Guard: 31 
Army: 34 
Air Force: 39
Navy: 39 

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References:

https://www.verywellmind.com/mental-illnesses-serve-us-military-3973352#citation-4

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/11/12/army-lifts-ban-recruits-history-self-mutilation-other-mental-health-issues/853131001/

https://www.quora.com/Can-I-join-the-military-if-Ive-had-depression

Was this post helpful?

Sara Quitlag is an Applied Psychologist, with a deep interest in psychopathology and neuropsychology and how psychology impacts and permeates every aspect of our environment. She has worked in Clinical settings (as Special Ed. Counselor, CBT Therapist) and has contributed at local Universities as a Faculty member from time to time. She has a graduate degree in English Literature and feels very connected to how literature and psychology interact. She feels accountable and passionate about making a "QUALITY" contribution to the overall global reform and well-being. She actively seeks out opportunities where she can spread awareness and make a positive difference across the globe for the welfare of our global society.