The world watched in horror as a tragedy unfolded in the French Alps on Tuesday when Germanwings Flight 9252 crashed into the mountains leaving no survivors. The thoughts and prayers of our entire nation are with the victims and their loved ones at this sad time. After a tragedy such as this one occurs we expect a flurry of emotions from the public and high speed efforts to find a logical reason behind it, however, we do not anticipate the stereotyping and stigmatising of millions of people who suffer with one of the world's most common illnesses. A full investigation of Andreas Lubitz's physical and mental health is entirely justified but the way certain news outlets have reported on his history of depression has been shameful and demonstrates how far we still have to go when it comes to tackling the issue of mental health stigma.
The front cover of today's Sun read 'Crazed rookie pilot murdered 149: Madman in cockpit' meanwhile the Daily Mail wasn't any better with "Suicide pilot had a long history of depression.. Why on Earth was he allowed to fly?" Drawing a causal link between prior experiences of depression and the mass murder of 149 people with no conclusive evidence that any such link exists increases the stigma surrounding mental illness and makes people less likely to seek help. In addition, questioning Germanwings' decision to allow him to fly purely on the basis of his history of depression is overly simplistic because whilst I 100% agree that we have to examine the mental capacity of people in charge of others' lives, there is no evidence to suggest that depression makes people want to commit murder or crash aeroplanes. Depression is surprisingly easy to hide from work colleagues and many depressed people also have jobs that they are expected to perform just like the rest of us.
The truth is that at this stage we have no idea what caused Andreas Lubitz's decision to end his own life and that of the 149 other passengers on his plane. And the reality is that we will probably never understand his motivations. So why then did the Daily Mail feel it was fitting to ascertain that the depressive episode which occurred six years ago must have something to do with this disaster? We do not yet know if he had a personal grievance with somebody on the flight or the airline he worked for or if he had another reason for his actions.
There are biological indicators of a depressed mind state which have been found in the bodies of suicide casualties including abnormal levels of neurotransmitter norepinephrine, but in this particular case investigators are having to piece together a psychological profile based on retrospective evidence from his phone calls, texts and explicit behaviours. Focussing on a prior diagnosis of depression as a precursor to his decision to commit mass murder reinforces the stereotype that people with depression are dangerous when in fact individuals with mental health problems are far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime, rather than the perpetrator.
All we know for sure at this stage is that an enormous tragedy has occurred, one which has affected thousands of people and will have a huge impact on aviation laws. So instead of stigmatising depression let's focus on helping the relatives left behind get the support and answers they need.
For advice with depression and suicidal feelings please contact the Samaritans at http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us