It was NOT the depression

by Dr. Micaela Wexler

As a psychiatrist who treats people with depression on a daily basis it is disheartening to see news story after news story referring to depression in relation to the Lufthansa Germanwings Airbus crash. The latest news story I’ve seen is one titled “Lufthansa’s Deadly Confession,” and it reveals that Lufthansa (gasp) knew Andreas Lubitz was depressed and continued training him.

People do NOT murder because of DEPRESSION. People do not do much of anything because of depression. That’s the problem with depression: it prevents people from taking actions, from accomplishing, from participating. People with depression are unable to do things they could previously do before a depressive episode. They lack interest, energy, concentration. People with depression do not suddenly get an urge to go out and do something evil that takes a great deal of skill and planning.

Perhaps there is confusion about what depression is. If so, then it is up to people like me, a psychiatrist who is intimately acquainted with depression, to educate about what depression is. The mnemonic device DIGSPACES (Depression, loss of Interest, Guilt, Sleep disturbance, Psychomotor agitation/retardation, Appetite changes, loss of Energy, Suicidal thoughts) is a helpful way to remember these key symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder. To be diagnosed, the person has to have had FIVE or more present over the previous two week period, and it has to reflect a change from the previous level of functioning.

Does any of this sound like someone is focused and energetic enough to go plan the murder of 149 people?

It is stigmatizing to the many people I see who courageously struggle with their depression to see the media continuing to relate this tragedy to depression. I am not saying Andreas Lubitz did not suffer from depression at some point. Evidence shows that he did, and that is very sad. What I am simply saying is that the depression is not why he did what he did. Yes, depressed people can be capable of evil things, they are capable of hurting others, of causing damage, of lying, stealing, just like anyone else. But, it isn’t the DEPRESSION that makes them do this. Their motivations would be the same as anyone else committing evil, violent acts.

It’s hard enough to get people who struggle with depression to get help. Let’s not make it worse by stigmatizing them. This will not only serve to further marginalize the mentally ill, but it will do nothing to get to the root of what really caused Andreas Lubitz to crash a plane full of innocent people. And, both of those situations hurt all of us.

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