Feature Medicine and the Media

The pilot, depression, and the salacious headlines that feed stigma

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1874 (Published 07 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1874
  1. Ingrid Torjesen, freelance journalist, London
  1. ingrid_torjesen{at}hotmail.com

Ignorant media coverage of mental illness after the Germanwings plane crash risked setting back recent progress in destigmatising and treating depression, writes Ingrid Torjesen

“If we don’t keep this extremely rare tragedy in perspective, many more lives will be damaged as a result,” Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma programme run by the UK mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, warned The BMJ.

French prosecutors said last week that it seemed likely that the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked pilot Patrick Sonderheimer out of the cockpit and deliberately crashed a Germanwings plane in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. This prompted the press to seek out every scrap of information it could gather about Lubitz’s background to speculate on what could have driven him to this act. Drip fed to the public have been details of relationship problems, failing eyesight, torn-up sick notes in his home, and most of all his history of depression.

“Madman in the cockpit”

The incident sparked headlines such as “Madman in the cockpit” from the Sun newspaper, “Killer pilot suffered from …

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