Germanwings Crash Co-pilot and reports of Depression

Yesterday’s news was dominated by stories of how the co-pilot of the Germanwings Airline suffered from depression. It was revealed earlier in the week that Andreas Lubitz had purposely descended the flight into the French Alps, while the pilot had momentarily left the cockpit. The plane crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday and all 149 passengers and crew died.

So, news that Lubitz suffered with a mental illness was the main news. However, the way many news outlets treated this information was met with upset and appal. The Daily mail, among many other media outlets and publications, have directly linked the depression to the crash, with “Why on earth was he allowed to fly?” as the Mail’s front page headline.

There are several things to mention in regards to this assumption. The immediate reaction is to say ‘yes well he shouldn’t have been in charge of a plane full of people if he was depressed’. People jump to the conclusion that it would mean he was unfit to fly and to have that responsibility, but this just shows exactly how much stigma is still attached to mental illness.

I just want to make a few points here:

1. It is not known for sure whether depression was the cause for the crash, so newspapers and headlines shouldn’t have made that direct link. As a journalist I do understand that they need to draw upon the most shocking detail – that makes news, but there are certain ways this SHOULD’T be done.
2. These headlines have not helped the stigma around mental illness – they imply that anyone with depression is dangerous and murderous, which is not the case. Many people with depression will never commit an act of violence, and those who do are more likely to harm themselves than others. Lubitz’s depression may have been a catalyst or a contributing factor, but equally, it may not have been. We don’t know.
3. It is an awful crime, purposely descending a plane with 149 passengers and crew on, including school children, and I know the world wants to know why. The world wants a reason as to why he these murders were committed, but the fact he did once have depression is not a reason. It has been reported that he was also fighting with his long-term girlfriend recently, which could have also affected his decision on  that flight. Until something is confirmed, these assumptions shouldn’t be made.

The more important news that was revealed yesterday was that Lubitz had recently hidden illness from his employers. A sick note, which would have signed him off work the day of the crash, was found torn up in his home. Whether this illness was depression or not hasn’t been confirmed. This is what the media needs to focus on now, and I’m sure they will.

People on Twitter also had a lot of things to say about this case, some of which I will include here, as there were some important points.

Matt Haig is an author, journalist and has suffered from depression. His tweets from yesterday were interesting and informative. I would suggest you read these and the ones I haven’t put here.


It should also be said that the leave Lubitz took for depression was in 2009. He had some time off but reports say he passed all the tests necessary which allowed him to return to work.

So while depression may have had an influence, it is important not to add to the stigma around mental illness. It could be argued the existing stigma (which many are fighting to reduce) may be the reason Lubitz hid certain things from his employers, in fear that he would be treated like this. It is also important not to make assumptions about the crash, when nothing (in regards to the reason) has yet been confirmed.

What do you think?


// Beth


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