FAA Medical Exam and depression

Today I went for my FAA Class III Medical Exam.  At the end of this exam, if you pass, you receive your "FAA Class III Medical Certificate and Student Pilot Certificate."  The Student Pilot Certificate part does not become valid until it is endorsed on the back by a Certified Flight Instructor, but the Class III Medical Certificate is required before you can solo, so they combine the two into one certificate. 
For obvious reasons, the FAA requires pilots to pass regular medical exams, and when you pass, the exam the doctor gives the medical certificate, and the doctor’s office submits the paperwork to the FAA.  For this exam, you must go to a physician that is has been approved by the FAA as an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).  An AME can do exams for ClassII and ClassIII medical certificates.  For a Private Pilot’s License, you only need a Class III medical certificate.  This is not a "difficult" exam to pass, as some have joked that about the only way you can fail it is if you were dead.  Part 67 of the FAA Regulations covers the medical requirements for this exam. 
Most student pilots will wait until just before they solo before they get their medical certificate, as you don’t need it to take lessons from an instructor, and this gives them a month or so "for free."  So, why did I get mine before even starting lessons?  Mostly I was slightly concerned that I might not pass in two areas.  First would be my hearing.  I have been to my share of rock concerts in college and such, and was concerned that it may have deterioritated to where I wouldn’t pass.  Second, was my blood pressure.  While, my blood pressure isn’t normally considered high, it is more what is considered to be "high normal" (130/85), but I also seem to have "Lab Coat Blood Pressure", which is when ever a doctor takes it, it seems to go much higher (140/90).  I would rather find out now that I failed the physical, than spend money on flight training only to find out that I can’t pass the medical exam.
The exam starts off with an FAA form to fill out which asks for name, address, phone number, etc.  It also asks about medical history, and there is a block of about 15 – 20 items where it asks "Have you have had any of these conditions since your last FAA medical exam?"  While I answered "no" to most of them, there were two that I did answer "yes" to, which I found out today "throws up little yellow flags"  🙂  The two I answered "yes" to were "High Blood Pressure" and "Depression/Anxieity/Mental Disorder."   If you answer "yes" to any of the items, they want you to explain them.  I wrote that the high blood pressure was related to the depression/anxiety, and that the depression/anxiety was caused by my mother’s passing in 2000, and I suffered from depression/anxiety for about 2 years. 
After filling out the form, the rest of the exam is pretty straight forward, and like you generic physical.  They did tell me that if I wore contacts to wear my glasses for the exam, and this is because they want to check your vision with and with out corrective lenses.  First thing they checked was my distance vision.  They asked me to remove my glasses and cover one and asked what was the lowest line I could read…  My response was "Is that an ‘E’ at the top of the chart?"  Same for the other eye.  With my glasses I could read better than 20/20.  My eyes have been this way since the sixth grade.  The the nurse had a book for testing for color blindness, and passed.  Checked my eyesight for reading without glasses and that was fine.  Then came some concerned questions about my two "yes" answers in the one section.  The nurse ask that I write in that I am not taking any medication for blood pressure and that I am no longer taking antidepressants and to also put in when I stopped taking them.  The nurse steps out for a second and come back with the blood pressure cuff to take my blood pressure.  As she is putting the cuff around my arm, she asks, "It was difficult losing your mother wasn’t it?" and had breif conversation about my mother as she was getting ready to take my blood pressure.  Well, that apparently didn’t help my blood pressure as it was 139/110!  She was like "Well, I just have you lie down for a minute and relax and I will turn off the lights and see if we can get your blood pressure down so we can pass you…"  The nurse did ask about my recent back surgery, and wasn’t sure if I would need documentation from the surgeon not.  The way they found out about the back surgery was one of the questions they ask on the form was "List your last three visits to medical professionals and reason for visit."  All three I list were due to my back problems and surgery.
After about 10 minutes of lying on the table with the lights turned out the doctor comes and say "So, pressure is up a little, huh…"  I said "Yeah…  It has tendancy to do that…  :-)"  He took my blood pressure and it was "140/90", which his response was "You can fly with that, but you should get it down…", to which thought "Yes… I know."  Checked leg reflexes, eyes, ears, nose, throat, and what physical wouldn’t be complete with out the "fondling and ‘please cough’" to check for hernia.  Then came more questions about my depression, What medication did you take?  How long did you take the medication?  Are you still taking the medication?  Were you suicidal during this time?  Did you see a phychatrist?  Can you get a note from your physician about the medication you were on and when it was started and stopped?"  At this point, I was like "Why did I even mention it?", but thought "If I didn’t put it down and they somehow found out, I would be in a whole lot more trouble and they would probably take my license."
After that the exam was pretty much done.  The doctor said he would be able to give me the certificate today with out the note from my doctor about my depression and the medication, but that the FAA would probably want documentation and I should get the note for them as soon as possible.  Reason is, that even though the doctor granted me my medical certificate today, the FAA has 60 days to review my "application" and can revoke it if they like.
While I can understand why the "depression" throws up some flags (wouldn’t want to give a suicidal person a license to fly a plane by himself), the fact is I am currently NOT suffering from depression, I am currently not taking any medication for it and all of this "ended" 3 years ago.
So, today I received my FAA Class III Medical Certificate and Student Pilot Certificate, and just need my instructor’s endorsement on the back after I solo.  🙂  Then I will be able to make flights by myself.  🙂  Only "bad thing" that I noticed was later in the afternoon while looking at the certificate, they have my zip code wrong on my address.  I stopped by office and asked what to do about that.  They didn’t know if they could just white it out or what.  I told them I would ask my instructor and see what he says.  I think it will be fine as I wrote zip code correctly on the form, so they can’t get me for providing false information.
As far as lessons go, I have lesson tenatively planned for Saturday, weather permitting.  🙂  Called Tom this afternoon and told him that I am more than ready to go…  🙂  It isn’t supposed to rain on Saturday, but it is "Clouds, visibility, and wind" are the three big factors (rain isn’t a big deal as long is you can still see 4 or 5 miles).
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9 Responses to FAA Medical Exam and depression

  1. Jeremy says:

    Goodness.  I don\’t know how you did it but you\’re a lucky one.  I\’ve spent weeks trying to get my medical records and letters from doctors/counselors because I had depressions about 4 years ago that lasted about two years, during which I took Zoloft.  The FAA hasn\’t taken too kindly to the idea.  From what I can see, my story is similar to yours, except my parents got divorced, yet you got your medical day of.  OK, I\’ll admit, I\’m a little jealous that you don\’t have to put up with any of this, but it is a bit reassuring to know that they do ultimately accept people with a history of depression.

  2. Alex says:

    Man you are lucky. I went to get my exam today and they wouldnt give me the certificate because I take Zoloft for social anxiety. I’ve never been depressed and my anxiety has been well treated well for over a year (not that it would interfere with my flying a plane) and they still failed me just because the word “Zoloft” throws up a red flag. My doctor is going to write the FAA a letter and I also have to get my psychologist to write them about my case. Talk about a let down though, I am in perfect health besides that. Wish me luck, I’ll need it!

  3. Aircrew Hopeful says:

    I just went in to get my Class 3 done. The biggest problem is Keratoconus in my right eye, which prevents me from getting to the 20/40 standard for the exam. My doctor is currently consulting with another doctor to determine what can be done, possibly additional vision testing. I will not be flying any aircraft but will be part of an aircrew. Hopefully things will work out.

  4. Jason Armstrong says:

    Alex I’m in the same boat as you ?? How did it turn out for you?

  5. Jason Armstrong says:

    I take lexapro

  6. Wow. What a story, I can see a resemblance in my case. I am going to get my flying lessons started soon, but I will have to take my medical certification. I already have somethings that they are going to point out. First I am 2/400 in my left eye and my right eye is excellent. Second I’ve been baker acted twice, suicidal threats but I wasn’t serious, I just wanted to get out of situations. they Gave me a antidepressant called something. It was for depression. and Im still currently taking it. But I believe that this is going to be a hard one.

  7. Jake Parham says:

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  8. Richard McMahan says:

    I am going on 4 years and $9,000 in the hole because of Prozac. I have taken all sorts of psych test and blown them all out of the water. FAA has changed the rules twice during the four years and is still wanting more. I thought I would do this the smart way and buy a plane in 2010 and have had my instruction or plane update already paid for depending on how it goes. Very upset because the FAA has criminalizes depression. I guess my 23 year career in law enforcement doesn’t count. If I am too unhealthy to fly I guess I need to be on disability.

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