Fighting For Pilots' Mental Health

I received an email the other day from a student pilot who is considering going on antidepressants. He was torn between his love of flying and receiving the treatment he needs. He knew that if he went on antidepressants now he would not be able to receive a valid medical for at least one year due to the new policies. However, that is much better than not being able to qualify at all.

His email gave me the idea for this post. I would think that there are many people who want to fly, but have no intentions of doing so for a living. There are more options open to someone who is not interested in becoming a professional. There are some ways people in this category can be on antidepressants and fly.

The first option is the easiest way to go. Simply fly with an instructor. It will cost a little more, but there will be few limitations on what you can do. This way a person can rent any kind of airplane they want to as long as they have an instructor who is qualified to fly that type of aircraft. About the only limitation you have this way is your finances.

The other way is going the route of obtaining your Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) rating. As an LSA pilot you have some limitations that you would not have as a Private Pilot, but you can still legally fly. One of the first limitations is the size of aircraft you can fly. An LSA will limit you to a two seat aircraft with some other restrictions on the airplane as well.

Here is a link to an FAQ page on the FAA’s website that will give you some information regarding limitations for a person who would like to obtain a Sport Pilot License.

The third and most tedious way for a person to become a pilot and be on antidepressants can eventually allow you to go on to be a professional pilot as well. This would mean going through the entire process the FAA has outlined in its new program. A person going this route will need to document that you have been stable one of the four approved medications for a minimum of one year. Being stable on the meds means that there has been no dosage change or lapse in usage.

When you meet the one year requirement you can then apply for an FAA medical. However, the doctor performing the evaluation will not issue the medical to you. The examining physician will “defer” your case to the FAA’s medical office in Oklahoma City. When your application is received in OKC it will be sent on to an office in Washington, DC. When your application has been reviewed in DC you will be sent instructions on how to proceed from that point. These instructions will inform you to see a Designated Medical Examiner who is also approved on the Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) program. Additionally, you will be instructed to undergo some testing. From what I have been told this testing can cost a few thousand dollars.

Once you go through this process there is no guarantee that will be issued a medical certificate. Also, keep in mind if you go this route if you are denied a medical certificate that you cannot even apply for a Sport Pilot License. Even though a medical certificate is not required to be a Sport Pilot the regulations state that anyone who has been denied an FAA Medical cannot become a Sport Pilot.

I hope that this information helps people who want love flying, but also suffer from depression. There are options available. Now the decision is yours. Let me finish by saying that safety is the most important issue when operating any aircraft. The regulations regarding operating a LSA also state that if you know of any medical reason that you should not operate an aircraft then you do not qualify to become a Sport Pilot. When considering this option work closely with medical professionals. If your doctor feels there are any reasons you should not operate an aircraft then do not.

I welcome your feedback.

Keep an eye on the sky!

The Prozac Pilot

2 Responses

  1. Hey CH, glad to see you are still fighting the good fight. believe you are in a better weather area, but my own depression has generally always been seasonal, dreary Mid-Atlantic February is THE worst, and the entire MidWest through the East Coast have been pretty dreary for months. Hope you and your readers are doing well! and my eye is on the sky…for Springtime!!

  2. Excellent article which really offers hope! Thank you! After a fairly serious motocross accident in 2010, the resulting divorce, surgeries, medical bills, relocation, loss of work for months etc. Has caused a bit of depression usually seasonal, within me as well. It never reaches the point where I can't make it to work or would ever consider anything "drastic" but I do feel as though I could use some help at times. Even the thought of potentially losing my medical is often worse than the actual depression. Without motocross in my life, flying holds even more importance than ever. After working so hard to achieving my private, I would really hate to see that go away as well. The Light Sport option may be the answer, I am still sorting it all out. But like you said, I can fly other planes with an instructor, keeping current with long cross country procedures and proficiency. A LSA aircraft in the hanger is far better than NOTHING. And with the wide variety of LSA's available it can be anything from a Taylorcraft or Luscombe to a composite wonder that cruises faster than older Bonanza.
    Thanks again! Keep on flyin'!

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