Reflections on Germanwings Flight 4U9525

http://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2015/03/29/should-you-tell-your-boss-youre-Lubitz crazy.html

In light of the recent tragic crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525, the conversation around mental health in the workplace is being discussed.

This article in the Toronto Star raises some interesting points about this event. The writer states that “I would not want a madman to fly me anywhere”, which is something I think many of us can agree on after this horrible event. In this situation, clearly the “madman” in question was in no position to be trusted with the lives of so many people.

This news story continues to perpetuate stereotypes about people with mental illness. In this instance, the perception of someone with mental illness being violent, reckless and dangerous, and suicidal was true.  It is so important to continue the conversation around this tragic news story and remember that this situation is rare. The horrible actions of this person with a mental illness does not represent how most people with mental illness behave.

There is an overarching belief that people with mental illness are violent, which is often perpetuated in media representations of people with mental illness. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than someone without a mental illness due to stigma, misunderstandings of behaviour and lack of awareness of the general public.

With more awareness and education, our understandings of mental illness will change. Perhaps if mental illness was not so greatly stigmatized, Lubitz would have felt more open about getting help for his illness. Maybe his employers or colleagues would have noticed changes in his behaviour and taken steps to get him help before he developed this plan. Maybe he felt so much shame or self-stigma around his own illness that suicide felt like the only way to deal with it. There is no excuse for his horrible actions that have impacted so many innocent people, but it is important to keep things in perspective, try to remember that this behaviour is not common for people who might be experiencing the same struggles.

What can an organization do to improve their support for employee mental health? Could this event have been prevented or different had the organizational supports and procedures been different? If Lubitz felt comfortable telling his organization about his illness, he could have received more support. If his employer had more education or awareness on signs and symptoms of mental illness, maybe someone would have noticed something and intervened. If there was a policy in place for physical and mental health screens prior to flying, would the situation have been different? A mental health assessment may be worthwhile to highlight other areas where mental health education and support is needed. It is tragic that the people on board this plane were victims of this man’s behaviour.

Everyone should have mental and physical health in order to do their job, especially those who are responsible for other people’s safety.