Can You Be A Pilot If You Have A Mental Illness?

The FAA (Federal Aviation Academy) requires a pilot to disclose any conditions relating to the state of their mental health in order to receive a medical license. 

If the mental health of a pilot is questioned, the pilot may be asked to disclose or provide documentation and undergo a psychiatric evaluation in order to determine whether they may be eligible for the certification.

Without a medical license, a pilot will not be able to fly solo or for recreational or private purposes.

There are certain mental health issues such as a personality disorder, psychosis and bipolar disorder that will automatically disqualify a pilot from achieving his/her medical license and prevent them from flying, according to the FAA guidelines.

Other treatable mental health illnesses can be successfully monitored and managed, enabling these pilots to obtain a special medical certificate, called issuance allowing them to fly. 

Pilots are assured that they can come forward and report their condition and airlines will assist in them getting treated and back to flying once the FAA has evaluated their condition and determined it is safe for them to do so.

Can you get a pilots license with depression?

It wasn’t until 2010, that the 70-year ban on being a pilot with depression came to an end. Previously, pilots who required medication for mild or moderate depression were not allowed to fly a plane.

Now, FAA guidelines state that if a pilot has received counselling from a counselor or psychiatrist for depression they do not need to disclose this on their application, and it will not stop them from being able to fly, even if the therapy results in a psychiatric disorder.

This only stands though, if the pilot and professional body deems them fit to continue flying and the disorder does not result in the pilot needing to take medication to treat it.

Can a pilot see a therapist?

When initially applying for the FAA medical license, you are required to disclose any health professional visits within the last three years. The examiner will then use this information to assess whether these visits would disqualify you.

Pilots should feel confident that they can see a therapist without facing any punishment in the form of being restricted from flying and losing their medical certificate.

They will not have to report any visits to a mental health professional unless it was due to substance and/or alcohol abuse or if the visits resulted in a psychiatric diagnosis that requires medication.

So, if you are functioning normally and are able to safely operate an aircraft but are seeking therapy for external issues such as marriage counselling or to improve your situation, you are not required to disclose it.

The FAA will not restrict flying for those whose condition will not affect safety, so pilots should feel comfortable seeking assistance from mental health professionals if they feel they require it without being stopped from flying.

However, if these visits do result in a psychiatric condition that requires the pilot to take medication as a form of treatment, this would have to be disclosed, and they may be restricted from flying.

For example, if a pilot is diagnosed with depression, they may need to report this but not always. Pilots are within their rights to seek a therapist for struggles with depression without having to report it to the FAA. 

If it becomes a more serious issue and the pilot requires further counselling from a psychiatrist it still wouldn’t need to be reported depending on the severity of the condition. In more serious instances, it would become reportable but still may not result in the pilot being restricted from flying as long as they are not taking medication to treat it.

Can I be a pilot with ADHD?

There are a number of mental health disorders that will disqualify pilots from obtaining a medical license. If an applicant has been diagnosed with ADHD and/or is being treated for it, they will not be eligible for an FAA medical certificate. This unfortunately would stop them from being able to achieve a pilots license.

There are also certain medications that treat ADHD that will disqualify a pilot from obtaining a medical certificate through the FAA, until further evaluation is done.

This is because the condition as well as the medication to treat it can have certain side effects that would result in cognitive deficits, making them unfit to fly.

The reason behind this decision is the fact that ADHD causes a person to experience a number of behaviors that are not safe in the cockpit. These include trouble concentrating, impulsiveness and/or hyperactivity which could impair them from functioning efficiently at work.

That is why applicants diagnosed with ADHD will have to go through a neuropsychological assessment to discern if they would be able to safely perform pilot duties.

Typically, those with ongoing ADHD will be unable to successfully complete pilot training. Plus, taking ADHD medication will often disqualify a person from obtaining their FAA medical certificate.

Can a person with autism become a pilot?

A person with autism may struggle to become a pilot depending on their diagnosis and the severity of symptoms.

For example, those diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder will typically struggle with social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.

Their cognitive developments and language skills however, are not affected. So, a person with Asperger syndrome could be considered eligible for obtaining a pilots license, considering they meet the criteria.

They may experience problems within their interpersonal relationships in the crew and other pilots and their ability to work safely in that environment may depend on the severity of their social and behavioral attitudes.

Moreover, the applicant will have to go through the necessary medical assessments as required by the FAA for any pilot to pass in order to be considered safe to control an aircraft. They will also likely undergo additional psychological assessment.

Will PTSD disqualify me from becoming a pilot?

Even if you suffer with very mild or even ‘cured’ PTSD you are required to disclose it when applying for the FAA medical certification.

The FAA may or may not disqualify you as a result. It depends on the severity of your condition and whether you are on medication for it or not.

The regulatory body does not have a specific protocol for applicants with PTSD. If you have had your medical certification revoked or disqualified as a result of PTSD and the condition has been resolved to the point of a ‘cure’ and you are not using medication to treat it, your medical certificate could be reinstated or considered.

You would need to provide significant evidence that you are no longer suffering with symptoms that could result in unsafe flying conditions, and you are not taking medication.

If you are successful in obtaining your medical certificate, you should expect regular examinations to make sure the PTSD is not worsening or causing you any problems.

If this is the case, and you require medication you will then be prohibited from flying and your medical certificate will likely be revoked.