The danger of linking the Germanwings crash with anti-depressants

I recently saw a tweet by The Associated Press that really got my feathers up – ‘BREAKING: French Experts: Germanwings pilot was using anti-depressants when he crashed jet into Alps.’ My immediate thought was, ‘so what?’ Had the pilot been simply taking antibiotics for example, regardless of the wide range of potential side effects, I highly doubt that anyone would feel the need to disclose his medical prescriptions. But the fact that it is medication in relation to mental health difficulties suddenly grabs press attention. To me, this just proves how far we still have to go in understanding mental health and its impact on society today. Someone’s response to the article was ‘increase the dosage’, further demonstrating the lack of comprehension of the issue.

Let’s clarify for a minute – Andreas Lubitz committed mass murder and had been deemed unsafe to fly, having seen forty doctors over a five year period. Access to his browsing history revealed that he had done extensive research on cockpit security and suicide, suggesting a pretty calculated decision, as opposed to the irrational one implied by the mention that he was taking medication. He should not even have been sat in that flight deck and in control of the lives of the 150 people who died that day.

As someone who has been on anti-depressants in the past, along with a predicted one in eleven British adults, the thought that people might associate my having been unwell, and hence taking medication, with a risk of violence and putting the lives of those around me in jeopardy, fills me with horror. There has been a longstanding stereotype of mental illness and violence being linked, and you need only look at some of the Halloween costumes, complete with blood stained hospital gowns, that are advertised by high street retailers every year, to see that mental illness is still vastly misunderstood. The only violence occurring in a large number of cases is the violent internal battle that many sufferers face daily with their minds. For me, anti-depressants did the very opposite to making me want to go out and commit mass murder. Whilst no two people will have an identical experience of taking anti-depressants, just as with any medication, my daily dose of Fluoxetine made me a more rational person, boosted my energy and with it my positivity, and allowed me to gain the exam results that got me to where I am today.

There is no disputing that Lubitz’s mental illness is a factor that has to be considered in this case, but to use selected elements of it as headlines is incredibly damaging for the field as a whole. The ignorance of how greatly anti-depressants vary in terms of side effects and the conditions for which they are prescribed is poor journalism to say the least. It further builds a wall and a stigma, forcing people to suffer in silence out of fear of the consequences, like losing their jobs. At a time of sensationalist journalism, it’s important to remember that this is one case, and that millions of others on anti-depressants are capable of carrying out successful and fulfilling lives, without ever posing any threat to those around them. By being more accepting and open to circumstances, we open up the discussion and honesty from employees about the medication that they are taking, rather than this warped worry that we all have to pretend to be in perfect health 24/7.

Helen Brealey 

Image courtesy of Reuters 

Leave a Reply