This is a piece I wrote for another blog back in 2015. Sadly, it’s still as relevant as ever.
I’m finding myself more than a little furious tonight at the reaction of the British press to revelations that Andreas Lubitz, the man flying the German Wings Airbus A320 when it crashed on Tuesday, was suffering from depression.
Disappointingly, though not surprisingly our so-called trusted Fourth Estate opted for sensationalist headlines with The Sun even deciding to brand him a madman. Why am I surprised that The Sun went for sensationalism?
The irresponsibility of our press is well-documented; one need only look at the outcome of the expensive and lengthy Leveson Inquiry to see it is a law unto itself. The subject of mental health is no exception and we see the media reinforce existing stigma time and time again.
Stigma surrounding mental health is nothing new but in 2015 it’s pretty pathetic that our highly influential media, in particular our tabloid press, actively chooses to do nothing to break down outdated attitudes. Let’s not forget that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. How many families does this tear apart? How many young children does this leave without a parent? My son has come close to losing his dad several times.
One in four people in the UK suffer from mental illness. We all have a responsibility to speak openly and honestly about mental health. The media is no exception and whilst a free press has every right to report the facts I’d argue there is a heavy responsibility to do so in a respectful manner that informs and stimulates intelligent debate. The actions of one individual, in any circumstances, should never be used to stigmatise other sufferers who live with mental illness every day.
Furthermore, we still don’t have all the facts about what happened on that flight. There is a lot of investigation to be done so I would add that our press should be reporting the knowledge we have in the context of the investigation so far and not rushing to churn out sensationalist, knee-jerk headlines. Should the facts change, it’s highly unlikely we’ll get a front page retraction of any of the pernicious copy we see in Friday’s newspapers.
There is no doubt this is an awful, awful tragedy and the outcome of any investigation could have a serious effect on subject of mental health in commercial aviation. We owe it to the memory of those who lost their lives on Tuesday to get this right and treat everyone involved with the dignity they deserve. As ever, the UK media is found wanting in this area.