Some mental health experts are beginning to grow concerned that the murderous behavior of Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is stigmatizing mental illness.
Lubitz, according to The New York Times, had been treated by psychotherapists “over a long period of time,” but failed to reveal it to his employer, the office of the public prosecutor in Düsseldorf, Germany said Monday.
Voice recordings from the flight reveal that Lubitz was alone in the cockpit and refused to allow the captain to re-enter as the plane crashed, killing all 150 people on board a week ago Tuesday. He was apparently concerned about losing his job over mental health issues. Airline pilots diagnosed with mental health issues reportedly risk losing their jobs, the report notes.
But the focus on Lubitz’s mental health issues may do more harm than good for awareness, experts believe.
One of those concerned experts is Jeff Gardere, a psychologist who frequently appears on CNN. He tells NewsOne that Lubitz, who allegedly withheld information about his treatment from his employer out of fear of being fired, is an aberration.
Gardere’s message is critical to the Black community, which historically has had attitudinal barriers about seeking treatment. An estimated 63 percent of African-Americans see depression as a personal weakness, which is higher than the overall survey average of 54 percent, according to Mental Health America.
“This is something that is an aberration,” Gardere said Monday. “This is an individual who had an extreme amount of responsibility and if he had not hidden issues from his employers, they may have gotten him even more help with his problems.”
Gardere encourages people of color not to allow the incident to dissuade them from seeking treatment for mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, and other issues. For people worried about losing their jobs as a result of mental health issues, he said there are protections under the law. Two of those protections include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), experts say.
“I think the lesson to be learned is to take on your mental health issues straight on and don’t try to hide it and suffer silently,” Gardere said. “There are protections with your employer. Of course, there’s no guarantee that, if you’re a pilot for example, it won’t damage your standing. But for 99 percent of us who are not pilots, certainly you do have protections.”
Beyond that, he expressed issues of access to treatment for African-Americans. The National Institute of Mental Health says one out of three African-Americans who need mental health care receives it. And African-Americans, compared to the general population, are more likely to stop treatment early and are less likely to receive follow-up care.
These findings come despite efforts to improve mental health services for African-Americans. For those with insurance, coverage for mental health services and substance use disorders is substantially lower than coverage for other medical illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
There are also concerns about being stigmatized as crazy.
“In general, people feel that if you’re having some mental health issues that you’re crazy, that you’re weak, that you’re less than, that you’re contaminated,” Gardere said. “In fact, we know that problems of living, including mental health issues, are part and parcel of our lives.”
He says it’s important for people to avoid allowing the actions of a lone man to impact their mental health treatment.
Further, he urged family members and friends to show sensitivity toward those with mental illness.
“We all have brothers, sisters, children, friends or close relatives who at some point in time will deal with a mental health issue,” he said. “So we have to be supportive and understand that this isn’t something that is foreign or that it is abnormal. In fact, problems of living are part of everyday life.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty