Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners

Item 47. Psychiatric Conditions

The FAA does not expect the Examiner to perform a formal psychiatric examination. However, the Examiner should form a general impression of the emotional stability and mental state of the applicant. There is a need for discretion in the Examiner/applicant relationship consonant with FAA's aviation safety mission and the concerns of all applicants regarding disclosure to a public agency of sensitive information that may not be pertinent to aviation safety. Examiners must be sensitive to this need while, at the same time, collect what is necessary for a certification decision.

When a question arises, the Federal Air Surgeon encourages Examiners first to check this Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners and other FAA informational documents. If the question remains unresolved, the Examiner should seek advice from a RFS or the Manager of the AMCD.

Review of the applicant's history as provided on the application form may alert the Examiner to gather further important factual information. Information about the applicant may be found in items related to age, pilot time, and class of certificate for which applied. Information about the present occupation and employer also may be helpful. If any psychotropic drugs are or have been used, followup questions are appropriate. Previous medical denials or aircraft accidents may be related to psychiatric problems.

Psychiatric information can be derived from the individual items in medical history (Item 18). Any affirmative answers to Item 18.m., Mental disorders of any sort; depression, anxiety, etc., or Item 18.p., Suicide attempt, are significant. Any disclosure of current or previous alcohol or drug problems requires further clarification. A record of traffic violations may reflect certain personality problems or indicate an alcohol problem. Affirmative answers related to rejection by military service or a military medical discharge require elaboration.

Reporting symptoms such as headaches or dizziness, or even heart or stomach trouble, may reflect a history of anxiety rather than a primary medical problem in these areas. Sometimes, the information applicants give about their previous diagnoses is incorrect, either because the applicant is unsure of the correct information or because the applicant chooses to minimize past difficulties. If there was a hospital admission for any emotionally related problem, it will be necessary to obtain the entire record.

Valuable information can be derived from the casual conversation that occurs during the physical examination. Some of this conversation will reveal information about the family, the job, and special interests. Even some personal troubles may be revealed at this time. The Examiner's questions should not be stilted or follow a regular pattern; instead, they should be a natural extension of the Examiner's curiosity about the person being examined. Information about the motivation for medical certification and interest in flying may be revealing. A formal Mental Status Examination is unnecessary.

For example, it is not necessary to ask about time, place, or person to discover whether the applicant is oriented. Information about the flow of associations, mood, and memory, is generally available from the usual interactions during the examination. Indication of cognitive problems may become apparent during the examination. Such problems with concentration, attention, or confusion during the examination or slower, vague responses should be noted and may be cause for deferral.

The Examiner should make observations about the following specific elements and should note on the form any gross or notable deviations from normal:

  1. Appearance (abnormal if dirty, disheveled, odoriferous, or unkempt);
  2. Behavior (abnormal if uncooperative, bizarre, or inexplicable);
  3. Mood (abnormal if excessively angry, sad, euphoric, or labile);
  4. Communication (abnormal if incomprehensible, does not answer questions directly);
  5. Memory (abnormal if unable to recall recent events); and
  6. Cognition (abnormal if unable to engage in abstract thought, or if delusional or hallucinating).

Significant observations during this part of the medical examination should be recorded in Item 60, of the application form. The Examiner, upon identifying any significant problems, should defer issuance of the medical certificate and report findings to FAA. This could be accomplished by contacting a RFS or the Manager of the AMCD.

Last updated: Friday, March 10, 2023