Germanwings Crash and Mental Illness

Germanwings Crash and Mental Illness

How many times over the past few years have we heard about a mass shooting?What follows is a media frenzy over identifying the culprit: an isolated, delusional young man with mental illness. This time around it’s Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who prosecutors believe deliberately slammed the Airbus A320 he was flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf into a mountain in the French Alps last Tuesday, killing all 150 passengers that were on board.

Call me a skeptic, but I think it’s all to easy to blame a dead person with a past history of mental illness for this tragedy. It’s much harder to take a long hard look at how we as a society perceive mental illness and take responsibility for creating an environment in which mental health treatment is often inaccessible, and even if it is available it is likely not to be utilized because one has to hide mental illness and fear getting diagnosed and treated because of stigma and the negative implications it may have on ones career and relationships.

According to APA Executive Director Dr. Katherine Noral, while research shows that investing in prevention-oriented programs can reduce mental illness and improve health, too few of these programs get the attention and the funding they deserve. The media headlines today scream “Germanwings co-pilot was treated for suicidal tendencies,” “received lengthy psychotherapy before receiving his pilot's license,” and “was prescribed antidepressants”. What do these headlines do? Create stigma. Just because one has a history of depression and suicidal ideation does not mean one is going to take down a plane with 149 people on board.

Depression is the “common cold” of mental illness and while often kept secret because of stigma, it’s likely that some men and women who have fought for our country overseas, your co- worker, neighbor, or perhaps a family member at one time or another experienced depressive symptoms (which include suicidal ideation) and may have even been treated for it with antidepressants or self medicated using drugs and alcohol.

While we still have a long journey ahead of us, fortunately there are some changes in the right direction. Alarmed by the steady increase in suicides over the past decade, military officials in recent years beefed up the number of programs and behavioral health specialists available for troops. Most recently in November of 2014, an event titled “Let’s Talk Solutions for the Future of mental Health” at the National Press Club brought together psychologists, journalists, scholars, veterans and advocates to discuss solutions in three areas: how to improve and increase mental health services for underserved and minority communities, how to improve care for veterans, and how to reduce stigma about mental illness. Also notable is the Chicago School of professional psychology that recently hosted an event titled “No Health Without Mental Health” that reviewed the latest research on prevention and treatment of mental illness, and their upcoming event on April 30th “Inside the Minds Studio,” is a thought leadership event addressing the intersection of the mental health profession and issues faced by veterans, military personnel, and their families.

I am currently working with a few of my colleagues on facilitating a government program in the community titled Media Smart Youth, aimed at empowering young people to develop awareness and critical thinking skills about the media’s role in influencing their choices (steering them towards foods high in fat, sugar and salt), and build skills to help them make healthy choices with relation to their minds and their bodies. Perhaps my next undertaking will be facilitating a program aimed at empowering people to develop awareness and critical thinking skills about the media’s role in creating and promoting a stigma associated with mental health. The journey began but we have a long road ahead.

Found this helpful? Share it with others!

Comments are closed.