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Mental health in the media

The news has been dominated this past couple of weeks by the story that Germanwings Flight 4U 9592 was purposely crashed into the French Alps by the planes co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz. The media has keenly fed the world’s fascination about the events that led to the tragic deaths of all 150 people on board and the spotlight has naturally fallen on Lubitz himself. What could have possibly driven this man to commit such a devastating act? The tabloids have concluded that the blame lies in Lubitz’s history of depression and struggle with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder). These assumptions are misinformed and capricious and yet they have been knowingly plastered across the front pages of newspapers the world over. The Daily Mail broke the news with the headline ‘KILLER PILOT SUFFERED FROM DEPRESSION’ whilst The Sun, eloquent as always, went with ‘DEPRESSED GERMAN DELIBERATELY FLEW INTO MOUNTAIN’. These headlines, simplistic and ignorant as they may be, imply that this is all there is to it. It is as though any confusion surrounding the root of the tragedy can be summed up in just a few words, or perhaps just one – depression.

Mental illness is frequently conveyed as ‘other’ in the mainstream media. It is taboo and yet worthy of sensationalism. It is an issue to be shied away from and yet something that we ought to be constantly in fear of. The brutal character assassination carried out on Lubitz in the wake of the crash serves only to fuel this stigmatisation. It is not yet clear why what happened, happened. It may never be clear, but what is absolutely crucial to understand, is that there is absolutely no correlation between depression and murder, least of all the kind that involves flying a passenger plane into a mountain.

Like 1 in 6 people, I have personally grappled with mental health issues at one time or another, but as the statistics suggest, I am certainly not alone. Depression, anxiety and panic disorders are so common that you would be hard pressed to come across anyone who was not at least familiar with them. So why are we so afraid to talk about these issues? Why do we so often take what we read in the tabloids, or hear on the news as fact? It seems absolutely ludicrous that there are still calls to ‘raise awareness’ of a problem that, for the majority of us, is simply part of our everyday lives. Yet if the headlines condemning Lubitz are anything to go by, society’s general perception of mental health is still hugely distorted.

The fact is that people suffering from mental distress are far more likely to be a danger to themselves than to others, but judgement and condemnation are commonplace in the arena of mental health, which ironically serves to fuel suffering rather than solve it. Attempting to contend with the overbearing voice of mainstream media is no easy feat, but it is now more evident than ever that there needs to be effective attempts to educate the masses regarding this issue. Scapegoating millions of mental health sufferers for the actions of one man is incomprehensible.  There are never any circumstances when generalising mental health issues is appropriate and the Germanwings tragedy should not be treated as an exception.

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The mental health charity Mind have provided instructions on how to make a complaint about the recent media coverage on their website: http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/minds-media-office/complain-to-the-media/

I would also recommend reading, and sharing these facts surrounding mental health and violence, provided by Time to Changehttp://www.time-to-change.org.uk/news-media/media-advisory-service/help-journalists/violence-mental-health-problems

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