I’m struggling with the media coverage of the tragedy that took place this week in the French Alps. We are hearing reports now that the co-pilot who crashed the plane, taking the lives of 149 innocent people, suffered from depression and anxiety.
It seems that many are jumping to the conclusion that because he suffered from these diseases, Andreas Lubitz wanted to take his own life and showed reckless disregard for the lives of his fellow crew members and passengers on that flight.
This may end up being the truth and time will tell. I’m not writing this to assign blame or to provide answers. Rather, this tragic event brings up a couple of questions for me.
When will the stigma surrounding mental health stop? Some of the reports I’ve read today blame Lubitz for hiding his mental illness from his employers. From my personal experience with depression and anxiety, it can be very difficult to have meaningful conversations about mental illness with close family members, let alone your boss. Many people who suffer even have trouble bringing themselves to a doctor to seek treatment. I know from first-hand experience that dealing with mental health in the workplace is a very difficult proposition.
In my experience, I was given room to get better the first few times my issues interfered with work. But after that, work became less concerned about my well-being and more concerned with how much time I was missing. Understandable from a business standpoint, but it showed a real lack of knowledge or care about the problems I was facing. I became a problem rather than a person.
It seems to me that many people who do not understand mental illness often don’t want to understand it. It’s much easier to chalk someone up as crazy than to learn what they need to get better. “I’m not like that, so I just don’t get it” is something I’ve grown tired of hearing. The very reporting that is happening about this tragedy plays into that same stigma.
Mental illness doesn’t show up in an x-ray or a blood test. For those of us who suffer from it though, it shouldn’t be treated any differently. It is our reality and it is painful and it is debilitating. Imagine if you told someone you had cancer and they just wrote you off as a goner – it’s often the same thing for us.
Where is the real conversation about mental health? Mental health only seems to be a topic of public concern when something bad happens. It’s only brought to the forefront when something terrible, like this airplane crash, occurs or when a celebrity, like Robin Williams, takes his own life. What about the rest of us who suffer quietly, day after day, without bringing any harm to any others?
I share my experiences with mental illness – often in unpleasant detail – because I feel that there are too many people who suffer silently, alone. There needs to be public conversation about mental illness so the people who suffer don’t feel stigmatized, don’t feel embarrassed, don’t feel different from the rest of the world.
People who suffer from mental illness need help to get better. We are suffering enough. We are fighting in silence. If we didn’t have to do that, we might not be talking today about the people who died on the airplane that crashed in the French Alps.
Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at: https://www.facebook.com/jason.large.12?fref=nf