ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Bigger Questions

Mental Distress, Disease, Diagnosis and Treatment

After the Germanwings pilot with psychological problems flew a plane-load of passengers into the French Alps, there has been a great deal of public discussion on mental illness, suicidal tendencies and treatment. This comment addresses two larger issues related to mental distress and illness--psychiatric labelling and the indiscriminate use of psychotropic medication. Though human thinking, emotions, and behaviour defy simplistic categorisation, the current trend is to medicalise personal, social, economic, and political problems while diminishing the role of a causal environment.

The investigations into the crash of the Germanwings jet suggest that its co-pilot deliberately flew the plane into the French Alps. Preliminary inquiries also suggested that Andreas Lubitz had psychological problems and was prescribed antidepressant medication, raising concerns regarding mental illness, its treatment, and consequences.

The media and internet were flooded with opinions, arguments, and debates. Could the crash have been prevented? Would screening pilots for suicidal ideation have identified problems? Should pilots diagnosed to have depression be banned from flying? Should pilots on antidepressants be grounded? Is Lufthansa legally liable for the disaster?

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