Germanwings Flight 9525: Andreas Lubitz’s act of madness
CAN we says that Andreas Lubitz was nuts? What about insane? Mad? What word can you use to describe the man who flew Germanwings Flight 9525 into a mountain killing all 150 people on board? His actions appear to have been deliberate. So. Let’s review another word. This wasn’t a killing. This was murder.
The tabloids pick up on the news that Andreas Lubitz had a history of depression.
Is that relevant? Do you want an ill man to fly the plane?
We don’t yet know if his politics, religion, sex or favourite books affected his thoughts. Many things could have shaped the man and made him do it. The reason why anyone does anything is never simple. But in the rush to construct a comfortable narrative readers can live with, the media focus is on Andreas Lubitz’s depression. (If he had been black, religious or right wing, say, any of those factors would be the main driver.)
The Mirror and Mail make a direct link between Lubitz’s illness and his actions:
Of course they’re not. Depression is the excruciating crippling black abyss. It is an illness you’d not wish on anyone.
But in looking for clues isn’t it valid to look at the killer’s health and state of mind?
The tabloids’ disastrous treatment of depression in the last couple of days is yet another reason why no-one should buy these papers. Ever.
— Father Diego ن (@frdiego80) March 27, 2015
The Sun shifts the tone. It sees not a depressive. It sees a madman.
The man’s actions killed, sorry, murdered, 149 people. Does that sound mad to you? One voice blogs:
I think that the Sun trumped the headlines I have seen this morning, simply writing “Madman in cockpit”. Nice to see them flying the flag for reducing stigma. It seems that the UK press missed the memo this morning that says that tackling stigma is everyone’s business. It would also appear that they momentarily forgot the fact that they can have such a massive impact on people’s perceptions of different issues, mental health included.
…our press have already started having a field day, monstering people with depression, even suggesting that people struggling with mental health shouldn’t be allowed to fly planes (or surely by that account, drive, work heavy machinery, do any kind of job where the lives of others are in their hands). All this is going to do is seriously distress people who are already suffering, make it harder for them to talk to their loved ones about their illness, make it harder for them to seek help. There are probably some people out there who’ve been agonising over whether to go to a Health Professional about their depression or anxiety or panic attacks, who have seen the newspapers today and decided it’s better to try to ignore it or suffer in silence than to be perceived as a potential mass murderer, to have people want to take away jobs that they love, freedoms that they love, responsibilities – children, or other vulnerable family members. These front pages aren’t merely offensive, they’re potentially hugely damaging.
Gee, can’t imagine why the dude didn’t tell anyone he had depression issues, what with how he’s being held as a murderer and criminal. — Too Mirai Cooks (@theMirai) March 27, 2015
Sources close to the investigation say Lubitz was being treated for depression. They say he concealed his treatment from his employer. Many voices say he did this because depression is so misunderstood and he feared the reaction. Look at the Press coverage, they say, who’d want to be be called mad?
In The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic Jonathan Rottenberg writes:
Because depression is so unpleasant and so impairing, it may be difficult to imagine that there might be another way of thinking about it; something this bad must be a disease. Yet the defect model causes problems of its own. Some sufferers avoid getting help because they are leery of being branded as defective. Others get help and come to believe what they are repeatedly told in our system of mental health: that they are deficient…
People still feel inclined to whisper when they talk about depression. Depression has no “Race for the Cure”; this condition rarely spawns dance marathons, car washes, or golf tournaments. Consequently, the lacerating pain of depression remains uncomfortably private.
In the Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression, we read:
Perhaps what we call depression isn’t really a disorder at all but, like physical pain, an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong; that perhaps it is time to stop, take a time-out, take as long as it takes, and attend to the unaddressed business of filling our souls.
Depression is complex, a debilitating mood of heightened awareness.
But this article is about the media. The Sun didn’t say depression was the trigger for the “killer co-pilot”. It says a man who, as it seems, consciously piloted a plane carrying 149 other people into a mountain was “crazed”. It does seem odd that we cannot agree that murdering 149 people is an unhinged act of madness.