04/17/2015 04:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015

Let's Stamp Out Stigma


High profile, gruesome incidents, like the March 24, 2015 crash of the Germanwing jet into the French Alps, naturally invite questions about the mental state of the perpetrator, Andreas Lubitz. In addition, the event may increase fear of people who suffer from mental disorders. My concern is that these incidents offer the opportunity to stigmatize and/or scapegoat those who acknowledge and seek help for psychological conflicts.

Dr. James L. Knoll, the Director of Forensic Psychiatry at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University, echoes my concern. "People want an easily graspable handle to help understand this, to blame something or scapegoat," Dr. Knoll said (Erica Goode, The New York Times, April 6, 2015).

In an earlier blog related to gun control (2013), I quoted the forensic psychiatrist Michael Stone who said, "Most mass murders are done by working class men we've been jilted, fired, or otherwise humiliated, and who undergo a crisis of rage."(The New York Times on January 16, 2013).

We aren't privy to the content of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz's sessions with his psychiatrist beyond the fact that he revealed suicidal tendencies. Had Lubitz openly spoken about his intentions, it is possible that the catastrophe could have been averted.

In my thirty plus years as a psychiatrist, I've had one instance in which a patient revealed his intention to commit mass murder. The patient, who I refer to as Mr. C., held intense grievances toward his employer. He was grateful that I was willing to testify in court for him advising his retirement from the workforce. As a result of my testimony, he received workers' compensation, and for the next twenty years of psychotherapy, he continued to rail against the company.

Although we don't know for sure if Mr. C. would have acted on his threats, in these instances I certainly think erring on the side of caution is preferable to taking chances.

CONCLUSION: To scapegoat and stigmatize people with psychological problems may discourage them from seeking treatment and result in a backlash including the occurrence of an increased incidence of violent episodes.

As a nation, we benefit from increasing access to psychological/psychiatric care, as well as propagating the principles of good-enough parenting, which can help:

1. Develop a healthy sense of self-esteem
2. Gain respect for human life
3. Acquire ways to deal with disappointment, frustration, loss and other grievances (which obviate the desire to act destructively).


Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.