Despite the fact that one in 10 Americans take antidepressants, depression is an illness that is still considered somewhat of an enigma according to Psychology Today.
It is difficult to categorize the group that it affects due the large symptom pool that includes abnormal sadness, disinterest, and in more serious cases, suicidal thoughts.
When co-pilot Andreas Lubitz crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 into the French Alps March 24, killing all 150 people on board, his past battles with depression surfaced as investigators searched for evidence.
Public prosecutor for the second largest city in France, Marseille, Brice Robin said during a news conference that the co-pilot purposefully “refused to open the door of the cockpit to the commander.” Additionally, French investigators revealed April 2 that Lubitz intentionally accelerated the plane’s decline, according to CNN.
After the collision was classified as an intentional suicide-murder, the focus began to shift to the killer’s motive: the big, looming “why?”
While Lubitz had exhibited indicators of depression—backed by information published in the Washington Post referencing the discovery of antidepressants in his home, reports that he had been treated in psychiatry and neurology clinics, and a debilitating depressive episode in 2009—this does not mean he destroyed the plane because he was depressed.
Leading up to the collision, Lubitz researched suicide methods and cockpit door security prior to the flight according to BBC News, revealing a man who allegedly acted in a premeditated, malicious manner.
Cold, calculated murder is many things, including psychopathic, but it isn’t a symptom of depression. Rather, the comparison of the two stems from a stigma that misinforms the public about what exactly it means to be depressed: to be overcome by an intense, crippling sadness.
Attributing depression to an act of mass murder misrepresents those who are diagnosed with the illness. In accepting a widely familiar disorder to describe an unfathomable act, the public receives a one-dimensional explanation of a complex problem.
This provokes the question: what role should the killer’s mental health play in explaining his motives? And how should his mental health be explained without stigmatizing a disorder in which a large group of people identify?
When something incomprehensibly terrible happens, it is natural to seek out a logical interpretation in attempt to disarm the notion that what occurred was unpredictable.
The more a catastrophe is analyzed, the less unnerving it becomes.
In an essay for Salon, Richard McNally, professor and director of clinical training in Harvard’s Department of Psychology, said that it is more difficult to predict mass violence than people would like to think.
He explores the paradox of hindsight, where “once we have a plausible account of what led up to a massacre, it seems obvious that we should have seen it coming.”
Unfortunately, a method to successfully predict who is predisposed to become a mass murderer has yet to be discovered. Furthermore, people who end up carrying out large crimes often go to extremes to conceal their plans.
Depressed or not, Lubitz’s identity exists beyond the disorder. He should be evaluated by the murders he committed, not by a broad and common mental disorder.
Anne Skomorowsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, argued in a Slate article that “using the word ‘depression’ to describe inexplicable or violent behavior’” sends a false message “that a depressed person is in danger of committing abhorrent acts.”
While it is easier to associate Lubitz with depression, doing so unjustly categorizes the community of people who suffer from the illness as dangers to society and does not allow for a complete understanding of his motives.