Germanwings tragedy highlights stigma surrounding mental illness

As more details emerge about a 27-year-old German co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, who, authorities say purposely crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 into the French Alps, killing 149 people and himself on March 24, we are learning more about his issues with depression and mental illness.

Lubitz’s employer, Lufthansa, has a policy that requires employees to notify them of medical conditions that could affect flying or obtaining their pilot’s license. However, initial reports indicate Lubitz may have hid his mental illness from his employer.

Due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness, it is not uncommon for employees or people in general to hide their condition. Unfortunately, this stigma stems from the negative attitudes and judgement that many people have about mental illness, thinking of it as a flaw as opposed to a medical illness or disease. By bringing awareness to mental illness, we can change the stigma surrounding it. For people suffering from mental illness, it’s important to learn better ways to cope with it.

Many people, whether or not they suffer from depression, are unaware of how much of an impact it has on people. Here are some statistics:

  • About 350 million people suffer from some form of depression, globally.
  • Eleven percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18.
  • Women are more likely to experience depression than men with 1 in 4 women requiring treatment in their lifetime as compared to 1 in 10 men.
  • An estimated 16 million U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2012.
  • Thirty percent of college students report feeling depressed.
  • Fifty percent of Americans with major depression don’t seek treatment
  • About 80 percent of people with depression report some level of functional impairment due to their mental illness; 27 percent report serious difficulties at work and at home.
  • Only 29 percent of people with depression report contacting a mental health professional.

Depression is a complicated condition characterized by altered mood, thinking, and behavior that can affect anyone. It is not something to hide or be ashamed of, and it’s important for people to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in order to prevent anyone from getting hurt. Eighty to 90 percent of the time, depression can be treated with therapy and medications.

Whether you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, paying attention to the signs and symptoms can greatly increase the chance that a person will seek help, as well as reduce the risk of a person hurting themselves or others.

According to, signs and symptoms of depression to look out for can include:

  • Often feeling angry or irritated;
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless;
  • Change in sleep habits;
  • Loss of interest in regular activities;
  • Sudden change in appetite or weight;
  • Loss of energy;
  • Self-loathing;
  • Frequent reckless behavior;
  • Trouble concentrating, focusing, making decisions or remembering things;
  • And an increase in unexplained aches and pains.

Depression is a major risk factor for suicide. Here are some warning signs that someone may be considering suicide:

  • Talking about killing or harming one’s self;
  • Expressing strong feelings of hopelessness or being trapped;
  • An unusual preoccupation with death or dying;
  • Acting recklessly, as if they have a death wish;
  • Calling or visiting people to say goodbye;
  • Getting affairs in order (giving away prized possessions, tying up loose ends);
  • Saying things like “Everyone would be better off without me” or “I want out”;
  • And a sudden switch from being extremely depressed to acting calm and happy.

Ultimately, people must learn to accept that mental illness is not a taboo. If you’re suffering from depression, don’t be afraid to tell your doctor, employer, friend or family member. Tell the truth. For everyone else, join the fight and spread awareness of mental illness. Let’s end this stigma.