Monday, April 13, 2015

Why Journalism Should Be Careful of Stigmatising Depression - LifeView

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Photo of Andreas Lubitz

With the recent reporting of Flight 4U 9525's tragic crash, there has been much talk of depression and its impact on its sufferers...

On 24 March 2015, Germanwings flight 4U 9525 crashed in the French Alps, killing all 149 people on board. It was later revealed that Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz had intentionally caused the horrifying incident. What followed was a frenzy of media activity as newspapers and websites reported that Lubitz was known to have been suffering with "depression". However, some of the headlines have caused both upset and concern for sufferers of mental illness, a disease that is, sadly, still plagued by stigma.

As a result of the media coverage, mental health charities have called for press outlets to be far more guarding and understanding in their language and approach to the condition. But it seems, in the 21st Century, there is still much work to be done to overcome stigma and plain ignorance associated with the disease.

Attitudes towards the crash have been mixed, but in general the "simplistic" journalism portraying depression as a possible sole reason for Lubitz's horrifying act is both unrealistic and damaging.

In a bid to sell newspapers, editors have allowed their "Why on Earth Was He Allowed to Fly" and "Killer Pilot... Depression" headlines to be published. How can these not add to the already existing stigma that surrounds mental health?

Forensic psychologist Dr. Brian Russell said recently, "Psychology can explain why somebody would turn rage inward on themselves about the fact that maybe they weren't going to keep doing their job and they're upset about that and so they're suicidal. But there is no mental illness that explains why somebody then feels entitled to also take that rage and turn it outward on 149 other people who had nothing to do with the person's problems".

Using badly-chosen wording, implying that anyone with depression is a risk to society and should not be employed, is insulting. Taking a look at statistics, it is reported that 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer with depression at some point in their life, so it is reasonable to say that more people than you know have, at one time or another, been affected.

So just how many, out of those, have taken the lives of others in a bid to end their own? Truthfully, events like the Germanwings crash are, thankfully, very rare: EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed in 1999 with the "probable cause" being deliberate action by the relief first officer, killing 217 people; and the deaths of 104 people on board Silk Air Flight 185 in 1997 was suggested to have been caused by the captain of the Boeing 737...

Yes, some are thought to be connected to "suicide", but it is not reasonable to even suggest that "depression" is the sole catalyst for such acts of murder.

Mental and physical assessments of those in more specialised areas of employment are necessary, but just when is a "depressed" individual permitted to hold such a position? It has been extremely beneficial that people from all walks of life, including the entertainment and medical industry, have publicly raised awareness of mental health - many have even told of their own stories and experiences, which acts to inspire every one of us.

If mental illness is to see an end to stigma, the media must remain unbiased in its reporting. And sufferers must be encouraged to speak out, and ask for help.

Alwyn Ash is a sufferer of depression. All views are his own.


Cestrian Dreams was founded by Alwyn Ash in December 2012, with the aim of highlighting mental illness, raising awareness, and helping to overcome the stigma associated with the disease. Originally set up with its very own website, Cestrian has now been incorporated with Alwyn's personal site.

"1 in 4 will suffer with some form of mental health issues"

Image source courtesy of Article © Alwyn Ash 2015.
Quotes (if applicable) used for publicity purposes only; no infringement of copyright is intended.