Leading mental health organisations have appealed for the media to report responsibly on the news that the pilot of the Germanwings aeroplane that crashed in the Alps this week had received treatment for depression.
It has emerged in the past day that Andreas Lubitz, the man suspected of deliberately crashing a Germanwings A320 plane in the French Alps on Tuesday had required treatment for depression.
This has led to sensational front page headlines in some of the national dailies, such as ‘Madman in cockpit’ by The Sun, while the Daily Mail ran with ‘Why on earth was he allowed to fly?’ and The Mirror ‘Killer Pilot Suffered from Depression’
In a joint statement, Sue Barker, director of Time to Change; Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind and Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness said:
“The terrible loss of life in the Germanwings plane crash is tragic, and we send our deepest sympathies to the families. Whilst the full facts are still emerging, there has been widespread media reporting speculating about the link with the pilot’s history of depression, which has been overly simplistic.
“Clearly, assessment of all pilots’ physical and mental health is entirely appropriate – but assumptions about risk shouldn't be made across the board for people with depression, or any other illness. There will be pilots with experience of depression who have flown safely for decades and assessments should be made on a case by case basis.
“Today’s headlines risk adding to the stigma surrounding mental health problems, which millions of people experience each year, and we would encourage the media to report this issue responsibly.”
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, also warned against making hasty judgements: “The loss of the Germanwings Airbus is a ghastly horror. Until the facts are established, we should be careful not to rush judgements. Should it be the case that one pilot had a history of depression, we must bear in mind that so do several million people in this country.
“It is also true that depression is usually treatable. The biggest barrier to people getting help is stigma and fear of disclosure. In this country we have seen a recent fall in stigma, an increase in willingness to be open about depression and most important of all, to seek help.
“We do not yet know what might be the lessons of the loss of the Airbus, but we caution against hasty decisions that might make it more, not less, difficult for people with depression to receive appropriate treatment. This will not help sufferers, families or the public.”