Andreas Lubitz and reporting on depression

Written March 2015

I’ve just spent a frightening hour reading reports on Andreas Lubitz and the Germanwings crash, particularly on the news that he had been or was still suffering from depression. Some “newspapers,” including the Daily Mail, are asking why he was allowed to fly. Comments on various websites are suggesting that people with depression should not be allowed to fly planes, or drive trains, or sail boats.

There has been an instant and gratifying backlash to this round of jumping on the bandwagon to stigmatise mental illness. Some people have gone too far- one tweet I read said that the author was saddened to hear that the co-pilot was suffering from mental illness, but that no doubt some would still rush to judge and demonise him. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to judge a man who appears to have caused the death of so many innocent people. But it’s also unreasonable to suggest that depression was the sole cause for his actions, and to tar everyone who has mental health problems with the same brush. Especially before all the reports are in – articles I’ve read are being careful not to say that the sick note on the day was for depression, but they’re putting the two facts so close together it’s automatic to assume that that was the problem. The hospital he was being treated at has said he was not being treated for depression at that time. I don’t know if he was on any medication for depression – I can’t tell if anyone does because these reports are so confusing – but various people are being quick to say it was anti-depressants which caused him to crash the plane, as they can, ironically, cause suicidal notions sometimes. I love the irony of those types of medication: it’s as good as some hayfever eye drops I had which ‘may cause irritation to eyes’ or birth control medication which can decrease your inclination to have sex.

These reports, particularly one stream of complete bullshit from that prize twat, Piers Morgan, make me so angry and unhappy I don’t know whether to hit something or cry. The airline have now said that Andreas Lubitz should not have been allowed to fly – well, obviously. But how were they supposed to know? How was anyone supposed to know? Being on medication for depression does not mean you are going to fly a plane into a mountain. Being suicidal does not equal being a mass murderer. Having experienced depression at some point does mean you are unequal to flying a plane. From the sounds of it, flying a plane was this man’s dream job. If anything, he should have been at his happiest and least depressed when he was flying. There was something else wrong, something else that made him crash the plane, and we may never know what that was. Breaking up with a girlfriend does not make most people that unhinged, and some bizarre tweets I’ve seen saying he was gay and didn’t want to be (has anyone actually read that in an article? I couldn’t find it so this idiot may well be making it up) are also missing the point, that people confused about their sexuality do not generally go around killing people. Not knowing why he did what he did is very scary and I can understand people wanting to have something to blame, so they blame depression.

But where and when will this end? Because I have a history of mental health problems, does that mean I can’t do certain jobs that put me in charge of other people? Doctors are more likely to suffer from mental health issues than people in other professions. Are they all suddenly going to get laid off if they admit to suffering from stress, anxiety, or depression? It takes some serious strength to NOT get low when you’re surrounded by illness and death every day. It doesn’t mean those people are weak, and it doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to decide to stop doing what they can to save lives, and start ending them instead. Mindless, turgid nonsense like the utter manure Morgan decided to spew into the world just makes people look at people like me and think that I’m not just someone who needs more pyjama days than most people, or who spends more time beating myself up about things I’ve done “wrong” than your Average Joe. It makes them think of people like me as potentially unsafe to the community at large, and that’s bollocks. Will people now not want to get in a car I’m driving, in case I suddenly think FUCK THIS SHIT and drive into a wall? It’s ridiculous. Being depressive doesn’t equal being suicidal. There are many types of depression and the difference between less and more severe versions of some illnesses is whether people think about death, in a general way, or whether they plan ways they could end their own lives. In a whole different arena, there is a whole different type of illness for people who plan not only their own lives, but the deaths of many others. I don’t know what you call it – psychopathic? I wish people would also stop calling it terrorism. As far as we all know, there were no political motives for his actions. If it’s not political, it’s not terrorism (according to a definition of terrorism I just looked up because I was getting so confused at the word being thrown around on twitter).

This crash is truly terrifying. I can’t stop thinking about the poor pilot, trying desperately to get back into the cockpit and not being able to. Obviously everyone is looking for ways to make sure this never happens again, but the truth is, you’re never going to be able to eliminate all risk. I read something on this for an anthropology course last year, on today’s ‘risk society.’ The general premise is that more and more, in this technological, everything-must-be-accountable age, people don’t expect to have to deal with risk anymore. If something goes wrong, someone must be to blame and that person must be punished. If an epidemic breaks out, it shouldn’t have broken out. Whose fault was it? The rise of social media seems to be making it all a thousand times worse. Someone writes an ill-considered tweet, they’re fired and unemployable. Clearly the case of Andreas Lubitz is completely different: he should be blamed for what happened, and there probably are ways the airlines can increase their security. But there will always be risk. You can’t eliminate everyone who’s ever suffered from any mental illness from doing anything more responsible than working in a café or an office (what if they went on the rampage with hot coffee, or a stapler? Maybe best not to let them leave the house at all). And if you did, you’d be depriving many professions of people who would do those jobs extremely well. And of course, if people don’t want to talk about their depression – which is hardly surprising, especially if people are now going to assume you want to drive lorry loads of people off cliffs – then you won’t be able to cut them out at all. Some idiots are saying that they blame family, or the airline, or whoever, for not spotting that he was mentally unstable, and that even if people try to hide it ‘there are always signs.’ Maybe, if you follow them around 24 hours a day and can hear their thoughts. But otherwise, no. People need to think about what they’re saying, and the media needs to be a bloody sight more responsible in their reporting. And Piers Morgan should never be allowed to express his opinions in public. How on earth does that man still have a job?

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