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Providers Weigh In: Depression or Airline to Blame for Mass Homicide?

Monday, April 27, 2015

As the investigation is still underway, Germanwings Flight 9525 that crashed into the French Alps killing all 150 passengers on board is not only a redefining moment on a continuing trend of deliberate and systematic attacks on innocent people, but also a contribution to the stigmas on depression.

Flight 9525 crashed into the French Alps after  27-year-old co-pilot Andrea Lubitz locked the lead-pilot out of the cockpit placing the plane into its fatal decent. Voice recordings recovered by officials determined this was not an accident.

What drove Lubitz to take down the aircraft remains a mystery that has many questioning not only the responsibility of the airlines failure to report his condition, but if depression is truly to blame. Dr. Langenecker, a neuropsychologist who treats depression at UI Health says, "It is important to understand that first, the reasoning that drives someone to consider suicide in the context of depression is very different than the reasoning that would compel someone to consider murdering innocent bystanders."

It was reported Lubitz had been treated several years prior to the incident for depression and suicidal tendencies. After taking a leave from his original flight training for what he informed his employers to be depression, Lubitz returned to complete his training and receive his license.

U.S. laws for confidentiality of care can be breached if a patient possesses an immediate threat of harm to self or others.  But this varies by state, only then can mental health providers report a patient. This is compared to German law where employers cannot access employees' medical records.

"Professionals involved in the care of patients often have to weigh concerns about confidentiality and autonomy with what is a very rare, low level risk" says Dr. Langenecker. " If there is stigma, people are less likely to get help. The goal is to keep people safe and engaged in appropriate treatment as needed. This will maximize the public health benefit and ultimately reduce risk for heart breaking events like the Germanwings crash."

In reality, though, suicide is, in addition to helplessness and hopelessness, a detachment from social relationships with others, a detachment from planning about the future, and possibly a detachment in considering how treatments for mental illnesses might improve in the future.  Investigations will further determine the outcome of this unfortunate event as the blame game continues back and forth between German laws and Lubitz's employer.