Today’s headlines show just how much work is still to do on mental health stigma

All of us have been moved by the Germanwings plane crash, feeling for those who have lost loved ones or colleagues. The circumstances of the crash, caused by what seems to be a deliberate act by the co-pilot, has provoked much comment in the press, much of it deeply irresponsible. Headlines have screamed about Andreas Lubitz’s mental health demanding to know why he was allowed to fly.

Lurid headlines, written by sub-editors who clearly have no clue about mental health, do not help to either tackle the stigma faced by people with mental ill health or encourage those who suffer to seek help. The more open we can be about mental health, the more we understand. That leads to a more comfortable and sympathetic world for those who are suffering.

It’s worth reading this statement from Mind, which acts the media to report the issue responsibly:

The terrible loss of life in the Germanwings plane crash is tragic, and we send our deepest sympathies to the families. Whilst the full facts are still emerging, there has been widespread media reporting speculating about the link with the pilot’s history of depression, which has been overly simplistic.

Clearly assessment of all pilots’ physical and mental health is entirely appropriate – but assumptions about risk shouldn’t be made across the board for people with depression, or any other illness. There will be pilots with experience of depression who have flown safely for decades, and assessments should be made on a case by case basis.

Today’s headlines risk adding to the stigma surrounding mental health problems, which millions of people experience each year, and we would encourage the media to report this issue responsibly.

At the time of writing, I am not aware of any statements from Liberal Democrat ministers or the Liberal Democrat Mental Health Association. I will update with any as I become aware of them.

If you are suffering from Depression or any other illness, the very last thing you need is to see that condition misrepresented in an ignorant and insensitive manner. Sadly, ignorant and insensitive is what our tabloid press do best. Perhaps this is a test for the new industry self regulator, IPSO.You may wish to complain about the coverage of this issue.  If they don’t deal appropriately with your complaint, then Hacked Off want to know about it through their IPSOwatch site. 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Helen Dudden 27th Mar '15 - 5:51pm

    It is sad for everyone. My sincere condolences go to all who have lost someone.

  • paul barker 27th Mar '15 - 7:42pm

    Dpession is very common, mass-murder isnt. While sufferers from depression often harm themselves they dont often harm others. One irony of this tragedy is that it could not have happened if not for our previous over-reaction to the tragedy of The Twin Towers in making Cockpits into fortified vaults. The unbreakable door meant to prevent Terrorist attacks kept the rest of the crew out.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 27th Mar '15 - 8:12pm

    Paul, in my first draft, I had in that people with mental ill health were much more likely to be victims of crime than to harm others. It’s a very valid point.

  • Depression is an illness that is historically, replete with injustice for the sufferer. But this man’s foul legacy, is twofold. The first is that his actions risks setting back, by years, the hard work to bring mental illness into mainstream understanding. The second is that his depression will potentially, dominate the debate, and mask his actions of utter selfishness.
    That his illness brought him to kill himself is understandable. That his selfishness to disregard the 149 people that were sitting behind him, is totally unforgivable. IMO.

  • Helen Dudden 28th Mar '15 - 8:04am

    Mental illness takes many forms, post natal depression is quite common. Those who have had near misses with illnesses like cancer, not everyone can feel secure and happy after the event especially if they are quite young.

    Anorexia is another, a side effect of being very unhappy even more difficult when it concerns a child. This too is not uncommon with child access cases on an international level. Self harming, again this is another excepted side effect within the above. Depression and low self esteem.

    Bi polar, I understand can be better controlled as drugs improve.

    I personally, feel that treatment for mental health issues, should be an important subject within our EU borders. Conformity, could be positive.

  • A Social Liberal 28th Mar '15 - 3:12pm

    One of the side effects of depression is that, whilst often the sufferer thinks that they are thinking and acting rationally quite often they are not. Consequently, to write off the actions of this young man as manifestly selfish is – in my opinion – wrong. We don’t know what or how he was thinking, or even if he was thinking at all.

  • Evan Harris 28th Mar '15 - 3:46pm

    Caron, I share your concern. The only point I would make is that there is no possible “test” for IPSO. It rules were drawn up by the industry in a way which means that it can never be an effective regulator even it were properly independent. This issue about mental health reporting is typical.

    The only way that headlines like “Madman flies plane” will stop appearing is if 4 things happen
    1) A Standards Code which says that this sort of stigmatisation is a breach of the industry’s own standards. At present it does not.
    2) The only way to change the Standards Code is to make it the responsibility of the independent regulator as Leveson proposed, such that editors (ie proprietors) would still have an input but could be outvoted by working journalists and lay members. Currently the Code is in the control of P Dacre the Chair of a Committee dominated by by editors and industry executives, so there is no chance of any change.
    3) A regulator independent enough to find against the newspapers on these issues when there is a code breach and IPSO breaches all of Leveson’s recommendations on independence.
    4) A regulator which is effective enough (in terms of procedures, powers and sanctions) to make newspapers care about not breaching the code. At present, it is none of those things and newspapers do not care.

    So it is not really a question of “testing” the impotent (already pretty craven) IPSO. It is a question of implementing Leveson.

    Declaration: I am Associate Director of Hackled Off.

  • Sara Scarlett 28th Mar '15 - 5:40pm

    Calling the actions of someone with depression “selfish” is a fundamentally flawed, unhelpful and ignorant way of analysing the situation. It may appear selfish to a rational mind but we are not discussing a rational mind.

    Also, a complete picture of this man’s mental health is actually not available. We have anecdotal evidence he is suffering depression but depression is usually a comorbid disorder. This man’s depression may exist along side another more serious condition. As has been noted, depressives are usually more likely to take their wrath out on themselves so let’s not stigmatise and mischaracterise the illness of depression when something else may be going on.

  • Someone who deliberately kills 150 innocents is an evil mass murderer. If that’s what this guy did then he is no different or deserving of sympathy than any other mass murderer. They could all be classified as having mental health issues. Let’s not look for excuses.

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