Friday, March 27, 2015

WILL THE GERMANWINGS CRASH REINFORCE STIGMAS ABOUT DEPRESSION?

Like most people, I have been following the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash which claimed the lives of 150 people on-board.  I have been horrified by the emerging media reports that "depression" was the cause.

It would appear that the co-pilot deliberately crashed the A320 into the mountains. News reports based on the flight recorders show that the co-pilot locked the Captain out of the cockpit and descended down into the mountains while the horrified crew and passengers tried to break through the steel door separating them from the controls.

Lets face it, everything was in order,  the pilot steps out to the lavatory and a chat with the flight attendants. All routine. Except that junior pilot was waiting for an opportunity to take sole control.

The new security provisions of the post September 11 world are designed to keep potential hi-hackers and terrorists out of the cockpit.  Armored doors and secret access codes designed to keep madmen at bay made it near impossible to get inside the cockpit if the person behind the controls denied access.  In this case the co-pilot locked himself in and deployed a five-minute override preventing the pilot from getting back allowing himself total control of the plane and the fate of those on board. The cockpit was unassailable.

The focus now shifts to the whys. Why was there no policy/rule/regulation ensuring that there was always two people in the cockpit at all times? What role did an alleged "mental illness" play in the co-pilot's actions? How was as this "mental illness" hidden from his employers? How could this terrible tragedy been avoided?

Pilots are glorified taxi drivers. I have flown in many types of aircraft. Observed many types of personalities and often thought about the blind faith we put in these humans to get us safely to our destinations. What if there are going through a martial or financial crisis? What if they are unhappy? What if they are distracted? What if they are not 100% in top of their game?

Pilot error refers to any action or decision – or lack of proper action – made by a pilot that plays a role in an accident. 80% percent of accidents caused by pilot error, according to Boeing. This may include a simple mistake, a lapse in judgment or failure to exercise due diligence.

After a year of talking about "depression" and the debilitating effects it can have on peoples thoughts, actions and behaviors - this single action, of one individual could set back the fight against stigmas forever. So much for improving public attitudes towards mental health

A casual link to depression as a factor in this crash will serve to further stigmatize depression.  The headlines in the media range from "Madman in cockpit” to “Killer pilot suffered from depression”. The media should be doing better than this.

There’s no reason to suggest that people with depression  are a greater risk to the wider population than those that do not suffer from the disease. If anything this need to blame, runs the risk of making it less likely that people coping with depression will want to speak up about their illness. 











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