Depression plagued co-pilot

By: Rebekah Devorak | Asst. Opinions Editor 

What was supposed to be a routine flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf for the Germanwings Flight 4U9525 on March 24 soon evolved into a tragic nightmare for all 150 people on board as the plane crashed unexpectedly into the French Alps.

According to The Associated Press, the Flight 4U9525 crash was initially believed to either be an accident or an act of terrorism. However, as officials recovered and listened to recordings on the plane’s black box, it became apparent that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, locked the pilot out of the cockpit and accelerated the plane into the mountains.

As investigators began digging into Lubitz’s personal life for an explanation, they discovered what German prosecutors believe to be the most probable cause for the crash: The co-pilot had a long history of depression.

The World Health Organization states that there are more than 350 million people of all ages worldwide that suffer from depression, making it one of the most common mental illnesses. While there are effective treatments in place to help those affected, the WHO predicts that less than 50 percent of the afflicted actually receive such help. In some countries, it is less than 10 percent.

While some who experience depression are unable to receive treatment due to a lack of resources or trained health professionals, which is especially true in third-world countries, others don’t even have the chance for help because they are overlooked or misdiagnosed. In a 2009 study by the Leicester General Hospital in the United Kingdom, only 47.3 percent of depression cases were correctly identified by doctors.

This is certainly alarming, especially when considering that untreated depression can worsen and eventually lead to suicide. Suicides account for one million global deaths annually, according to the WHO.

What is unfolding with the events of the Flight 4U9525 crash could unfortunately turn out to be another example of mental illnesses being overlooked and untreated until it is too late.

Germanwings was unaware of any depression problems that Lubitz had, despite the fact that he had experienced a severe episode of it while training to become a pilot. German officials stated that Lubitz received treatment for suicidal tendencies and depression during a leave from training in 2009.

However, Lubitz never disclosed this to the company upon his return, and officials believe he lied on the cursory, honor-based psychological exam needed to get a license. According to a 2014 study conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots in training who experience depression or other mental illnesses are often unwilling to volunteer that information out of fear that they will not be cleared.

While murder-suicides by plane due to mental illness are uncommon (the Federal Aviation Administration reports only one other example since 2002), the world is not unfamiliar with other events that have the same heartbreaking results. The Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, the Norway attacks in 2011, the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 and the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting in 2012 are all examples of attackers with a long history of mostly untreated mental health problems who turned to violence for answers.

These people, including Lubitz, are completely responsible for their actions and the lives that they destroyed as consequences. However, the world needs to develop more accurate ways of detecting mental health issues, such as depression, to avoid these tragedies in the future. If Lubitz and hundreds of others across the globe would have received properly diagnosed, executed and completed treatment for mental illnesses, then Flight 4U9525 could have safely landed in Dusseldorf with all 150 passengers alive, like it was supposed to.

The world also needs to create a culture where it is okay to admit to a mental illness. Those with depression or other mental health issues can’t keep sweeping these things under the rug out of fear that they will be discriminated, unaccepted or looked down upon. Mental illnesses are just that: an illness. For the most part they are perfectly treatable, yet for some reason everyone tends to look at them with a perception of embarrassment or shame that no one stereotypes sicknesses like the flu with.

The sooner we all start looking at mental illnesses as a medical problem instead of a personal problem and properly discovering cases of such in patients, the sooner we can start offering help that is truly going to make a difference not only in their life but in the lives around them.