There’s been a lot of talk about the mental health of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot that crashed the Germanwings plane into the French Alps.
As more details come out, it appears obvious that he was suffering from some type of depression, psychosis and/or personality disorder. Without having examined him myself, I can only speculate by the information covered by the news outlets, but I do know that there are certain forms of mental illness that make a person more likely to not only kill themselves, but to take the lives of other people with them.
Sometimes severe depression can include psychotic features that come and go. This is often missed when the person sees a clinician because the psychosis may not be present during the examination, only the depression, therefore the person is treated only for depression.
If a person has psychotic depression combined with grandiosity, egocentricity and lack of morals/conscience, that can lead to a person who almost has a god like complex where they believe that not only is their lives in their own hands, but so are the lives of other people. Thank goodness that this type of condition coupled with violence is rare.
Usually people who are depressed and/or have suicidal tendencies are only focused on harming themselves. They would never take the lives of another person, much less that of a stranger. Depressed people and people who suffer from a mental illness in general are not dangerous, it’s only when these mental illnesses are combined with other conditions such as psychosis and/or a personality disorder that they can become disastrous.
For example, as we stated above, some forms of depression can have short episodes of psychosis . Conditions such as bipolar disorder sometimes may also include psychotic features, where the person may be depressed and hallucinating or manic, grandiose and delusional. The contents of the psychosis may or may not be aggressive.
Because people with bipolar disorder often only go see a doctor when they are deeply depressed, they are often misdiagnosed with depression and given antidepressants which can then send that person into a manic episode. I’m not saying that is what happened to this pilot, but his girlfriend reported that he made statements such as “One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.” This is a very grandiose statement.
There’s even some reports that his vision problems he was so afraid would cost him his career may have been psychosomatic, meaning that they weren’t organic kn nature but psychological. His mental illness could have been causing him to believe he was losing his vision.
On top of that, perhaps the thoughts he shared with his girlfriend only alluded to even more grandiose and obsessive thoughts. Some people with mental disorders suffer from painful, oppressive, relentless, intrusive thoughts that may be scary and constant.
For example, a person with Obessive-Compulsive Disorder may know that they turned off the oven before they left the house because they checked 10 times, yet they can’t get the thought out of their head that they may have left it on and it will burn down their house so they recheck it again and again causing them to be late for work every day. Or the husband who has the obsessive thought that his wife is cheating, although he knows she’s not, yet he can’t get the thoughts out of his head so he is constantly accusing her, checking her phone, going through her things and driving her crazy.
Also, in some personality disorders and psychosis, there can be very grandiose ideas where the person thinks they are better than everyone else and that no ones life really matters. This could have played a role in the airplane crash and would help explain the selfishness and egocentricity of killing oneself with no regard for the lives of the other 150 people and their families.
For the most part, people with mental illnesses can maintain very successful lives and careers, such as being an airplane pilot, but only if they are diagnosed and treated properly. Often people with mental illness are misdiagnosed or don’t ever get treated because they don’t believe they need help or because of stigma.
People who suffer from bipolar disorder often like the high of the mania therefore they don’t get treated or take their medication accordingly. People suffering from psychosis often don’t realize that they are psychotic and therefore decline treatment.
I once spent several weeks trying to convince a successful business man suffering from bipolar disorder that he was not only bipolar, but needed medication to help control himself. At the time he was manic, had been arrested 3 times in 2 months for various reckless behaviors and was on the brink of losing everything. It was only after he had a long time to think in solitary confinement did he start to have some insight and agreed to treatment.
This pilot, suffering from real or psychosomatic vision problems he believed would end his career, seized the opportunity to not only end his suffering, but to live out his grandiose fantasy of going down in history, once he was alone in the cockpit. In his right mind this pilot wouldn’t have did what he did, but his mental illness made him impulsive and in that moment he did something that could never be undone.
Often times suicide is an impulsive act. A person may have the thought, but without adequate means they won’t harm themselves. However, if the impulse is strong enough and a weapon of destruction is within reach, the urge to kill themselves may win out over any desire to live.
Once again, at this point it is pure speculation as to what was actually going on inside of Andreas Lubitz mind at the time he made that fatal decision. However, this gives us a great opportunity to have an open discussion about mental illness no matter if it’s our own or others.