After the Germanwings plane crash, remember not to stereotype those with depression

Andrea Lubitz
The vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness, the American Psychiatric Association reports.

And only 5 percent of violent crime is attributed to mental illness, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Jillian Peterson, PhD, said in an article by the association, “When we hear about crimes committed by people with mental illness, they tend to be big headline-making crimes so they get stuck in people’s heads. ... The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, not criminal and not dangerous.”

I am bringing up these facts in light of last week's Germanwings plane crash. Black box recordings suggest that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked the lead pilot out of the cockpit. And the co-pilot suspected of purposely crashing the jetliner — killing all 150 passengers and crew members aboard — was previously treated for suicidal tendencies and had a background of clinical depression.

When tragedies like this happen, it makes some people fear those with mental illness. And many are asking the question, "Why was he allowed to fly the plane in the first place?"

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls even called Lubitz "criminal, crazy, suicidal" — as if those three adjectives are synonymous with each other.

Julie Beck of The Atlantic wrote in an article, "Suicidal doesn’t equal homicidal. Criminal doesn’t equal crazy. And crazy is an unkind thing to call someone who’s suffering."

In response to the crash, there are musings of mental health exams being mandatory for those in the aviation field.

I agree wholeheartedly with what Robyn Urback of the National Post wrote in a column.

"A pilot’s mental health is just as important to a safe flight as is his or her physical health. But there is also some concern — valid concerns, in my view — that such assessments will further stigmatize those suffering with mental illness, and only encourage pilots to keep their conditions private, lest they risk losing their jobs," she said.

Urback writes that most medical professionals agree that people with mental illness are more likely to self-harm than they are to injure anyone else.

"Those who are determined to do harm to others will often find a way, though it’s important to recognize that those suffering with depression are not overwhelmingly among them," she wrote. "More than 350 million people suffer with depression. Only one guy crashed a plane."

Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, told The Atlantic, "If I could wave a wand and magically cure (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression), the overall amount of violence in society — any minor or serious violent act, pushing and shoving or using a weapon —would go down by about 4 percent ... 96 percent of it would still be there.”

People with all different characteristics have committed unthinkable acts. Saying that people with mental illness cannot be trusted because of this one event is about as logical as saying that all white men or all Germans or anyone in their 20s should not be trusted — which are also all characteristics of Lubitz.

One in four adults experience mental illness in a given year, the National Alliance of Mental Illness reports. That's a lot of people! And, with the appropriate treatment, those with mental illness can lead the same kind of life and achieve the same goals as those without mental illness — including being able to fly an airplane.

You Might Also Like