In many areas of the United States, a foot of snow on the ground does not a crisis make. In Kentucky, however, it puts everyone into full-on freak-out mode. Not that long ago, many of us in the western part of the Bluegrass State were shoveling off our driveways and trying to figure out how we were going to get to work (or anywhere) the next day. Once we all made it out of our driveways, we were greeted by some roadways that had been plowed, some that had been sort of plowed, and some that it appeared no one had touched at all.
On the plowed roadways, there were heavy-duty mounds of snow piled up along the shoulders. I’m not sure if they could have actually done any damage to a vehicle if it had struck one of them, but they looked solid enough to possibly cause some harm to not only the vehicle but also the driver behind the wheel.
And, on a particularly down day for me, I had the brief, fleeting desire to drive straight into one of them.
I didn’t, of course. Almost as soon as the thought entered my mind, I recognized it as being insane. I didn’t really want to cause harm to myself or my vehicle that day, but my mood was so low that for a brief second I considered doing something pretty stupid.
Suicidal ideation is an extremely difficult realm to decipher. Many people who have fleeting suicidal thoughts never act on them at all, while the appearance of them in some people can be a red flag for problems to come in the future. It also is not necessarily a byproduct of mental illness. Suicidal thoughts can be brought on by sudden life changes or economic hardship or any number of external factors, so automatically linking them to major depressive disorder or dysthymia or bipolar disorder or any other disruption in the brain can be a mistake.
I would not say I have reached the point of obsession with the story of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who intentionally crashed a Germanwings plane into a mountain, killing everyone on board, but I have definitely become very interested in it. Despite the fact that no suicide note has been found and that Dusseldorf prosecutor Christoph Kumpa has said all data and documents pertaining to Lubitz’s mental state “don’t show any hint of being suicidical [sic] or being aggressive towards other people,” media reports still seem determined to link this horrible act specifically to mental illness.
In a Yahoo! News story from today, it was revealed that Lubitz had been treated by a psychotherapist for several years because of previous suicidal tendencies. That information supplied the headline for the story, but Kumpa’s earlier quote and the words of a fellow Germanwings pilot who said, “The impression that I got was that he was a normal guy,” were buried deeper in the story. It’s almost as if in order for people to wrap their minds around this terrible tragedy, they must find some mental disorder to pin it on. To think a normal mind would do something this horrific does not seem to compute.
There also seems to be an undercurrent of blame running throughout these reports. As is always the case in times of senseless tragedy, we look for someone to blame. Now, Lubitz is certainly to blame for this particular act, but since he went down with the plane, that only leaves Germanwings to direct accusations at. Should Lubitz have been grounded? Well, no one exactly knows at this point. Should I be banned from driving a car, though, because I had that thought about the snow bank? I don’t think so. Until the extent of Lubitz’s thoughts become clear, can anyone really fault Germanwings for letting him into the cockpit of a plane? He did have a pilot in there with him, after all.
As with suicidal ideation, it is nearly impossible to look at a situation such as this and make a definitive conclusion until every piece of information is uncovered. That could take months or even years, and we want it to all happen in the span of a few days. There is no way I could defend what Lubitz did that day. I’m not even saying he was a decent guy. I don’t know anything about him. I just believe that immediately going after mental illness as a cause for his actions could not only be incorrect, but could also create more of a stigma for those who suffer from it. Not all of us are going to fly planes into mountainsides … or crash cars into piles of snow.