I’m 31 years old and I’ve been diagnosed with a depressive illness for over half my life now. In all that time I’ve never killed anyone, plotted to kill anyone or learned to fly a plane just in case I ever do feel the need to kill anyone. However, looking at the week’s papers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that homicidal urges and depression were inextricably linked…
On Tuesday, a Germanwings plane crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers and crew aboard. The co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, apparently locked the pilot out of the cockpit and intentionally flew the plane into a mountain. Yesterday, it emerged that investigators had found documents in his home which showed that he suffered from clinical depression. Media and politicians alike went wild with offensive sweeping statements about mental illness. “Madman in the cockpit,” screamed The Sun. “Criminal, mad, suicidal,” insisted the French prime minister.
Depression is characterised by feelings of hopelessness, emptiness and melancholy. When you’re depressed, there is simply no joy in anything. Depression isn’t the crazed screams of Bedlam. Far from it.When you suffer from depression, you’re more likely to be introverted, to retreat into yourself, to avoid social situations if you can.
People with depression are usually sensitive souls: we‘re empaths. We open the newspaper and read about all the awful things going on in the world and it hits us deep. My depression doesn’t make me want to hurt you. Indeed, it only makes me dangerous to one miserable individual (and studies show that I’m not alone in that), for the simple fact that ending my own life would end the pain. Whatever it was that drove Mr Lubitz to do what he did, it certainly wasn’t a straightforward case of depression.
Lubitz passed psychological tests which deemed him fit to fly but people are now asking why a man with depression was allowed to fly a plane. Well, newsflash: those with depression occupy all sorts of positions in society. From athletes to heart surgeons and from child minders to lawyers. Many of them with great success. Buzz Aldrin, the second man ever to set foot on the moon, was a depressive. Why was he allowed to operate a spaceship? Because he was the best man for the job, that’s why.
Grappling with the intense misery of depression is hard. It can sap your productivity and make it difficult to get out of bed some days. But what it doesn’t usually do is fill you with a desire for mass murder. Lubitz’s act was inspired by some kind of horrible internal demon, but depression certainly wasn’t it. Nobody actually knows what was going through his head. It’s all speculation. There is a lot more to be discovered about this case, there’s no mistake about that.
Stigma around depression is bad enough as it is. You may not give a second thought to how your sensationalist scaremongering affects those of us forced to live with mental health problems. Perhaps you even get a bit of a nasty thrill out of reading about the “madman in the cockpit”, but for us it’s no joke.