The Peace Corps and Anxiety Disorders - mutually exclusive?
December 16, 2013 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Does having a diagnosed anxiety disorder that requires, but is well managed by, medication, generally disqualify you from consideration for a Peace Corps post?

I would like to begin the application but I currently suffer from an anxiety disorder that is controlled by ativan. I'm nearly certain that actually being in the Peace Corps would eliminate a good percentage of the triggers for my more severe anxiety, but if it's a straight up disqualifier then I don't want to waste the time applying. Obviously I assume access to my medication in a remote part of the world for 2 years might be the biggest challenge but let's put that aside for the moment.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total)
AFAIK, you report your medical situation and health history to the Peace Corps. They don't go looking through your medical records. So whether or not you wish to disclose your anxiety issues is up to you. That may put you in a funny ethical situation depending, but sometimes folks with mental health issues, because of the weird stigma about them and other factors, must make difficult decisions in the disclosure regard.

If you do decide to disclose your anxiety disorder, my guess is that would raise a flag for the review board. In the peace corps application process, decisions based on health can be appealed and are not permanent.

Here's the ultimate thing - the Peace Corps cares most about whether or not you are going to have some serious condition during your volunteer period that will prevent you from carrying out your duties and/or be a major liability to the Peace Corps. They don't want you melting down on them over there. You probably know better than anyone else if this is likely to happen and whether or not your condition prevents you from being a successful volunteer.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:57 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is also the consideration that you may be placed in a country that either does not allow you to bring your Ativan into the country or that you will not be able to get it refilled. My sister is having this problem with her Adderall and another benzo medication in the middle eastern country she is living in right now.
posted by honeybee413 at 12:16 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

From (1 page PDF):
The Peace Corps does not have blanket rules excluding applicants with particular conditions and each applicant receives an individualized assessment of his or her medical condition. If an applicant is not medically cleared for service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, he or she will receive an explanation of the reasons and will have the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Pre-Service Review Board. Medical clearance decisions are not permanent, and someone not medically cleared may later reapply.

If you have any concerns about medical support or other clinical questions, please call the Pre-Service Unit Nurse Line at 1-855-855-1961, extension 4049. You may also email; however, because email is not a secure method of communication and there is a chance that an outside party could access your information, we will not be able to discuss sensitive medical information via email.
The bottom line, as Lutoslawski says, is that the PC doesn't want you to have to be evacuated or cause an international incident because of some medical condition. If your disorder is controlled by medication that doesn't require difficult storage or shipping procedures, you should be fine.
posted by Etrigan at 12:18 PM on December 16, 2013

I doubt it would be a definite disqualifier. I put my history of mental health issues into my application and they still took me. I had to see a therapist for a single session to determine that I wasn't a basket case. They were more concerned about my asthma. In both cases, stating several times that these things would not be issues allowed them to accept my application.

DEFINITELY disclose it in the application. You'll need PC staff help to get your meds, and if they find out you have an undisclosed condition, you'll Early Terminated--this happened to someone in one of my PC groups.

Obviously I know nothing about you, but I would think carefully about whether your anxiety will really be abated in Peace Corps. For me, culture shock, more frequent sexual harassment, fear of drunk drivers and wild dogs, and dealing with the often-ridiculous bureaucracy of the Peace Corps itself, definitely made my anxiety worse, not better. Sorry if this is nosy--you've probably already done your research on this, but I want to mention it because I would not have thought my mental health issues would have caused problems for my service, and eventually, they did.
posted by chaiminda at 12:23 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having had experiences with various NGOs (ARC, FEMA, DMAT, in varying capacities), it is my belief that disclosing any medical conditions you might have as well as any medications you might take would be in the best interests of yourself, the organization, and the population you're caring for and supporting.

The first because health care providers associated with the organization would want to know your medical history and medications you're taking, in the event that you become ill. As a generalized example: it would be terrible to become sick and be prescribed a medication which might interact with whatever medication you're on.

The second because the organization should, in theory, know pertinent details about its members so that they can provide support, be it physical or psychological. Being deployed anywhere can be stressful to one's mind and body, and undoubtedly would expose you to new or unfamiliar environments or situations. Of course one must consider the liability aspects, but one must also consider that organizations do, and have, trained medical personnel and counselors to help and support its members.

The last because, ultimately, one would want to provide the best service one could for the community and its clients. And that means taking care of yourself, and the previous two points.

Ultimately, yes, there are medical conditions that might preclude one from being considered for service. This should not discourage you, and you should be up front and very frank in your application and anyone who interviews you. I am not familiar with the Peace Corps' application process, and I do not know when/where you might disclose your medical history. I do not believe you need to go into extensive detail or make it a big point of discussion, apart from mentioning, perhaps, that it's well controlled, and that you would be open to discussing it.

Having fulfilled various medical roles as a physician for the ARC and as a liaison with other such entities, that anxiety disorder does not necessarily preclude you from service from such organizations. Again, I am not familiar with the Peace Corps' policies.

Best of luck!
posted by herrdoktor at 12:31 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would also say FOR SURE DISCLOSE IT. If it is disclosed to Peace Corps after you are in the field and serving it can be grounds for administrative or medical separation, depending on the circumstances (I have seen this happen). Peace Corps is a stressful job, so there is a need to make sure you're able to handle what's thrown at you in country. As noted above, there is little that would cause them to auto-reject you, but they want to make sure that the job and the circumstances of the country work with your situation. EG, not sending someone with asthma to a tropical environment is one relatively benign example that is cited.

My experience with PC is that they design the application process to make you self-select out of the Peace Corps, rather than that they will really reject lots of people outright (though perhaps this has changed in recent years). But do disclose stuff like this - you don't want to be in a situation where this specific issue does flare up in country and then have them scrutinize your medical history and find it. This goes for anything medical related.
posted by handful of rain at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

This might be stating the obvious, but have you done a similar, but more short term volunteer trip or travel stint?

If you are concerned about/uncertain about how your mental health will fare when you enter the Peace Corps, I think it would be hugely beneficial to do a sort of trial run with perhaps a 3 month placement. It's long enough that you could assist meaningfully with a project, but short enough that if you find it's not working out for you, it won't be as difficult/stressful to fix.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:53 PM on December 16, 2013

I applied for the Peace Corps about a million years ago (actually, more like 10) and my fuzzy recollection is that they were worried about anything that could result in a catastrophe in the field or that would require you to see a doctor on a very regular basis. The latter is because many PCVs are places in rural villages where a trip to the doctor (especially a specialist) involves a full day of travel, so needing to see a doctor more than once a month or so would be disruptive. So I think the biggest thing would be making sure you could get your meds while in-country. Which might be difficult if you're trying to hide your anxiety from PC.

As far as the catastrophes go, you know best whether or not that is likely, ie, do you have anxiety attacks, or have you ever experienced any other mental illnesses comorbid with or exacerbated by your anxiety? Also, from what I know about Peace Corps service, it really is often a scenario that exacerbates rather than alleviates mental/emotional issues: you may be the only westerner in a village with people whose culture you don't know and who don't know yours, and your assignment is often ill-defined or impossible to execute. This is part of the adventure, but it's also very stressful and depression at least is not uncommon.

Again, you know best how your anxiety manifests, but it's something to think about.

Oh, and you may want to read The Village of Waiting by George Packer - it's what made me realize that being a PCV was not for me, but others have said it inspired them to go, so I think it's a balanced tale.
posted by lunasol at 2:55 PM on December 16, 2013

Just had a friend that is medicated for depression and anxiety accepted to the Peace Corps, so it's not an automatic disqualification.
posted by klangklangston at 1:12 PM on December 17, 2013

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