Depression kills, as does stigma.

27th March 2015

Firstly, while this blog is still in its very early stages, I wish to re-emphasise that I will not solely be writing about mental illness. I plan to provide comment on a provocative, debate-inducing story which has featured heavily in the press, whatever the subject matter. I’m not going to pretend that some of my posts won’t naturally (and, potentially, subconsciously) head into the realms of mental health, but only when appropriate. After waking up to the disturbing headlines concerning the tragic Germanwings air disaster, and, in particular the aeroplane’s co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, however, there was no way that I could not this the subject of my second piece.

Below are, what I consider, the three most irresponsible front pages from the UK press as published by The Sun, The Mirror and The Daily Mail today.

270315 The Sun270315 The Mirror270315 Daily Mail

I consciously use the word “irresponsible” because I truly believe that the mainstream media has a duty of care towards its readership; its level of influence and its ubiquity assures me of this. We are all, whether we like it or not, continuously open to being manipulated, swayed or coerced by the media, with it having overwhelming effect on the formation of our opinions. The diffusion, and subsequent permeation, of what we read, watch and hear shapes our mind-set. This, of course, can be extremely positive and we must not take for granted the freedom of the press which we have in this country. Occasionally, however, it can be exploited and consequently damaging. Sadly I believe the latter is true in this case and I am obliged to add my voice to help question how this tragedy is being reported. Writing in The Guardian today, Masuma Rahim concurs and recognises the ‘barrage of stigmatising, fear-mongering media reports.’

It is now being widely-reported that Andreas Lubitz hid his history of poor mental health from his employers. Before my own diagnosis I too tried to keep what I was feeling and thinking a secret from not only my colleagues but also my friends and family. It seems completely paradoxical to me that the same media outlets which are blaming this tragedy seemingly solely Lubitz’s depression and his reluctance to be open about his mental health are indeed part of the very area of influence which breeds this fear of “coming out.” Pejorative and loaded language such as “crazed” and “madman” cannot prompt intelligent, informed debate and can only reinforce outdated impressions of those of us who live with poor mental health every day.

One in four people will suffer from a mental health condition, at varying degrees, at some point in their life and suicide remains the biggest killer of men under the age of forty-five here in the UK. It is absolutely vital that those struggling, and there are many of us, feel able to openly discuss their inner thoughts and feelings. I believe that verbalising the state of one’s mental health is the first, and probably the hardest, step towards recovery. Since I began discussing my experiences of living with depression and anxiety on social media the point that I continually find myself making is the importance of making one’s mental health tangible. By removing its immaterial, vague and rather fluid nature, it can begin to be dealt with. We all, myself included, have to keep remembering that recovery is possible with the right support. Headlines like those above only succeed in people keeping their illness a secret. It breeds shame, embarrassment and, worst of all, stigma. Conversation is key. In order for a person to start such conversations about their mental illness they need to feel comfortable and assured that they will not be vilified.

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Depression kills, as does stigma.

7 thoughts on “Depression kills, as does stigma.

  1. The Real Freedom of Speech says:

    This is a serious question, not designed to be antagonistic, but to convey a sincere point of view… Why are you criticising people for speaking openly about the factual reason this incident happened?
    The only reason someone would intentionally fly a plane into the side of a mountain, killing 150 people, is because they lack mental health. I challenge you to provide an alternative reason or rational that someone would do this without them suffering, to some degree, with mental health issues.

    This is part of the problem with today’s British society of political correctness. I think before people like you start labelling this murderer a “victim”, we recognise this person is SOLELY responsible for the death of 150 others. Lets show some sympathy towards the family of the deceased before the murderer…

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    1. Firstly, at no point do I affirmatively show a lack of respect or sympathy for those passengers and crew (and their families.) I take issue with the choice of language used. Of course I am not condoning his actions, nor am I arguing that it was he who crashed the plane. I have read so many comments today proving that the stigma levelled at those suffering with poor mental health is still very much present, and at risk of dramatically increasing. This goes further than this one tragic event – it highlights poor, misguided attitudes. Why wasn’t he able to discuss his mental health? Nobody should feel that they have to suffer in silence. That’s my point.

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  2. Henry says:

    “we recognise this person is SOLELY responsible for the death of 150 others” – I would refute this. Placing blame entirely on the persons poor mental health assumes the person is 100% responsible for taking care of their own mental health, which I think is unreasonable and, honestly, not possible. Surely you would have to place some liability on the very negative environment we have created surrounding mental health issues? And we don’t know anything really about his personal background, so casting opinion about mental health issues is particularly meaningless. When considering the points raised in the original blog post – namely that irresponsible journalism which casts huge shame and stigma on a very vulnerable group of people can cause serious further adverse affects to their mental health – it’s certainly plausible to suggest that these papers could be even more damaging, to even more people than the plane crash itself..
    Political correctness in neither here nor there, what’s needed is a thoroughly scientific and logical approach to a serious issue – not targeting, belittling and bullying a very stereotyped, very simplified and over generalized group of seriously ill human beings…

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  3. GiGi says:

    I think that one of the most misleading parts of the headlines we have seen is that there is a subtext that ALL people with depression feel suicidal, which they do not and that they should therefore be excluded from work. The rhetorical question of “why was he allowed to fly” suggests what? That no pilot that suffers depression should be allowed to fly in case they may feel suicidal. Given that something like one in three people suffer from depression at some point would suggest this isn’t a useful statement to make. What we should be discussing is what more can be done to support and help people with mental health problems. You can be mentally ill and still able to function in a job of work, even a high pressured one – famously Winston Churchill suffered periods of depression. Until there is good access to swift diagnosis and treatment then society isn’t going to move forward from the point we are at the moment where people feel the need to hide their illness from employers.
    I don’t think for a minute that this blog is in anyway disrespectful to anyone – it is trying to make the important point that in general there has to be more openness and dialogue around depression and mental illness in order to avoid such awful tragedies from occurring.

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  4. This was a well informed argument for more understanding about the problems faced by people who suffer from depression. Of course headlines are meant to be provocative but the newspapers should be reporting facts and not encouraging their readers to stigmatise everyone with depression.

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