‘Why on Earth was he allowed to fly?’

Because mental illness does not make him incapable or dangerous

The words “Why on Earth was he allowed to fly?” were plastered across the front page of Friday’s issue of the British newspaper the Daily Mail in bold, all-caps, large print next to a photo of Andreas Lubitz, Germanwings Flight 9525 co-pilot, who is suspected of intentionally crashing the plane into the Alps.

CNN covered the crash almost constantly throughout Monday after reports surfaced about Lubitz’s history of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Other media outlets joined in on the speculation, claiming Lubitz’s mental health record caused him to crash the plane, insinuating people with a history of mental disorders should not be allowed to operate planes or do anything else that has a potential of danger for other people.

News outlets that spend an extensive amount of time on this kind of information are promoting the stigma around mental disorders. Not everyone with depression or suicidal thoughts is that way for the rest of his or her life, and it is not society’s place to determine whether he or she is stable enough to perform certain jobs.

Once someone is dead no one can ever know what the intentions behind his or her actions are unless some kind of statement has been left behind explicitly outlining the who, what, when, where, why and how. Even then, reporting on the intentions is speculation.

The fact CNN reported on this for most of the day shows how speculation is seeping into our newsrooms disguised as actual news. Reports from unnamed sources about a person’s mental condition are not newsworthy information. 

If this type of information is reported at all, it shouldn’t get hours of coverage and shouldn’t be the focus of the story. The maximum it should get is a single statement if it comes from a trustworthy source. 

Depression and anxiety are serious disorders hundreds of thousands of people deal with on a daily basis, but that does not mean those people are incapable of being trusted to do their jobs. Leave that decision up to individuals’ doctors.