April 8, 2015

The Real Danger behind Equating Mental Illness with Murder.

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On March 24th, a senseless, horrific disaster occurred when Germanwings Flight 9525 was flown deliberately into the side of a mountain by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz.

Every day since, as we struggle to connect the dots and fathom how and why such an incident could have occurred, another tragedy continues to play out: the media repeatedly equates Lubitz’s potentially diagnosed depression as causing the plane crash.

All day long, driving to school, reading the paper, overhearing people discuss the news, I discern the same message: “Andreas Lubitz was clinically depressed. His depression caused him to kill a plane full of people.” Or, “Germanwings co-pilot diagnosed with depression before committing murder/suicide”—or, “why was this depressed man allowed to fly?”

It is an extremely loaded and dangerous word-weapon we create when we begin to spout sentences that insinuate that depression causes murder.

There is still so much we do not know about what occurred that day, and we will never know what went on in the mind of Andreas Lubitz. I am not a psychiatrist, or a medical doctor. I can only speak from my personal experience with severe depression, and those of others I know.

In a world where mental illness is far too often stigmatized and employees are concerned with coming to their bosses with the truth about what they are suffering due to a fear of this all-pervasive societal judgement, equating depression with murder is very dangerous indeed.

Approximately 17 million Americans suffer from depressive and anxiety disorders at any given time. The list of symptoms of depression are myriad and include low energy, poor appetite, irritability, sadness, weeping spells and insomnia or oversleeping.

Nowhere in that list of symptoms is murder.

Yes, depressed people have committed murder—so have people with thyroid conditions. Certainly, mental illness must have played a factor in this plane crash. But depression does not equate with psychosis does not equate with all mental illnesses, combined with the multitudinous other factors that led this man to make his perilous choice.

All that aside, almost all  people with mental illnesses do not commit violent crimes. Similarly, almost all people who do not have mental illnesses do not commit violent crimes. When a violent act is committed, a cornucopia of factors come into play. Genetics, situational circumstance, substance abuse—to name only a few. And, again—depression is not all mental illness.

Studies have recently shown that mentally ill people are more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than a perpetrator.

Depression did not “cause” this murder—and we are multiplying these tragedies by preventing other people from potentially seeking help for their depressive symptoms.

The only thing more heart-wrenching than the fact that this man chose to kill all these people—along with himself—is that, in our rush to find an “answer,” we are further alienating all individuals suffering from mental illness

We are just too keen to wrap this tragedy up in a neat package and put it away.

Depression is a terrible weight to bear. Any mental or physical illness is. However, we must realize that depression is only one small factor in this complicated story. Whatever compelled Andreas Lubitz to drive that plane into a mountain was far greater and more intricate than a diagnosis of depression.

As we seek answers in this heartbreaking chaos, let’s remember that.

Sources: Understanding Anxiety and Depression, Facts about Mental Illness and Violence

Relephant Read:

What I wish People knew about Depression


Author: Keeley Milne

Editor: Renee Picard 

Photos: Wikimedia, Joshua Winstead/Pixoto

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