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Mental Health America Mourns Victims of Germanwings Flight

Written by Bruce Cruser

Bruce Cruser has been Executive Director of Mental Health Virginia since 2016, bringing a background in social work and community corrections, and many years of leadership experience in local and state government.

March 27, 2015

Statement by Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO

“Mental Health America joins America and the world in mourning the loss of those killed in the horrific and tragic plane crash of flight 9525. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. It is clear at this point the plane was brought down intentionally by the co-pilot. To all of us, that is incomprehensible. There have been reports that Andreas Lubitz may have been dealing with some mental health issues including depression. It is important that during the discussion and debate around how to prevent a tragedy of this type from occurring again, we keep in mind that violent behavior is not a product of mental illness. Violence is a product of anger.

We want to understand why this man turned to suicide and violence against others. But we must remember that the large majority of those with a mental illness are not nor will they ever be violent. In fact, research shows that those with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence. These facts of course do not comfort the families of this tragedy, but they are the facts.

What should we do in the face of tragedies like this one? First, we should mourn. Second, we should make no excuses for them and let go of old myths about their causes, and seek real and complete answers – as difficult as those may be to find. Third, we should act on what we find.

Sadly, it appears as well that the stigma surrounding mental illness may have played a role here. It has been reported that Mr. Lubitz may have been afraid to tell his employer about what he was dealing with. So many people are in similar situations when they first start noticing warning signs, and are fearful of retribution or being labeled “unstable”.And now they may be even less willing to come forward because of Mr. Lubitz’s actions and the response to them. There is a powerful stigma surrounding mental illness insociety and in the workplace. Many facing mental health challenges— from postpartum depression to major depressive disorders and bipolar disorder or schizophrenia—are often discriminated against in the workplace. What results can be individuals ignoring symptoms, not getting help, and ultimately getting worse.

In my mind there is no question that if we search, we will find the answers, in a way that will help to break the chain of shame and stigma that frequently accompanies mental illnesses – a chain of neglect that often binds us from acting until mental illnesses reach Stage 4. It is time we invest in the overall physical and mental well-being of all our citizens—every day. Like other diseases, we can and should address symptoms early and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. It is past time that we begin to act before crises occur, to prevent them and the horrible sadness, dismay, and distress they invariably leave in their wake.”

Paul Gionfriddo is available for print or broadcast interviews on this subject; please contact Erin Wallace at ewallace@mentalhealthamerica.net or 571-319-9594 for availability and scheduling.

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