I know that mental health advocates, and some bloggers have been writing about this, and I wouldn’t be adding to that, but this is so important. This has to do with every one of us that has a mental illness. This has to do with how we are treated, and perceived.
The media is saying that Andreas Lubitz, the man who locked the pilot out of the cockpit and purposefully crashed a plane with innocent people on board, had an “illness” that he was hiding, and in the same sentence they are reporting that he was depressed.
At the time I am writing this they haven’t said that depression was the illness he was hiding. Of course, the way it is presented, I would imagine, everyone in the world that watches international news, probably believes that depression is in fact the cause. Even though the illness hasn’t been named yet, the constant reference to his depression makes it sound as if he was both suicidal, and in this case, homicidal due to mental illness.
I am very discouraged. I feel like we have made great strides in terms of accepting depression and bipolar disorder over the last few years, because some very high profile people have come out and talked about it, or have died from it (terrible). I was hoping that the stigma and stereotypes surrounding schizophrenia would eventually lessen due to more understanding about depression and bipolar disorder. I was hoping. I was hopeful. Now, this.
The media in this case has done to the illness of depression what they always do in the case of someone who commits a crime that has schizophrenia. They don’t take the time to explain that millions and millions of people suffer from depression every year, and rarely do they harm anyone (except possibly, and tragically, themselves).
Whenever there is a mass shooting in this country, I count the minutes until the reporter covering the story begins to speculate on the possibility that the shooter has schizophrenia. At the same time that I am counting, I am also praying they will find the person doesn’t have a history of mental illness. I know this sounds awful, but it is true. Of course, I also weep for all victims of crime everywhere, because a violent act is always tragic.
Sadly, our country’s short attention span usually kicks in before they have cleared up the psychological state of the perpetrator in a wildly publicized case. In two of the most high profile cases, the Aurora shooting, and the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords in Arizona, the perpetrators were in fact suffering from schizophrenia. It does happen, but it is so rare.
Murders happen across this country every single day where there is no known history of mental illness in the criminal. This scenario is by far the norm. The fact that this is common doesn’t catch our attention though. Having a mentally ill criminal is far more sensational, and captures way more viewers.
I fear this latest tragedy not only took over one hundred innocent lives, it sent the ground we have gained in fighting and overcoming stigma back a decade. I know it is tiring, but as we mourn the loss of the innocent, we must also put on our hats as educators and begin discussing the reality of mental illness. By far the majority of us (millions) wouldn’t commit a crime. I imagine the numbers would go down even further if we had an adequate system in place to get people the help they need.