By now, I’m sure you all have heard of Germanwings Flight 4U9525, which crashed into the French Alps on March 24th. Since that date, multiple news agencies have reported that regulations and laws regarding medical privacy are being called into question. “How could this have been prevented?” they ask. It’s my understanding that part of the reason pilot-in-command, Patrick Sondenheimer, couldn’t get back into the cockpit was because of safety measure put in place after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We can debate all day about how to keep good, mentally stable people in and bad or mentally unstable people out, but I honestly think there are no changes to be made to laws, regulations or medical privacy policies that would have prevented this tragedy.
My boyfriend came up with the best solution I have heard so far. He said the policies should state that two people be in the cockpit at all times. That, of course, doesn’t stop two people from conspiring together to do something terrible, but certainly it would reduce tragedies like this one. Any other change, especially in regards to medical privacy, I fear would make no difference. I could even see changes creating more tragedy.
As a whole, humankind has a very difficult time with afflictions of the mind. People fear being stigmatized, a fear which often prevents them from seeking help. When someone is brave enough to seek help, they are often still stigmatized. I know people who suffer or have suffered from mental illnesses. Many of them go to great lengths to make sure no one knows, especially their employer and coworkers. They don’t want to be treated differently and they don’t want their past to affect their current job.
Thank God for medical privacy laws. I know for a fact some of the people would have faced great hardship without them. Some may not have jobs, some may be homeless and some may have even been died. Why? Because, had 99.9% of these people (again, people who I know) known their medical history could be accessed by anyone outside of their doctors and therapists, they would have never sought treatment.
There are two general options I hear debated in regards to the tragic Germanwings plane crash. The first is that employers should have access to the mental health records on their employees. So long as a person is managing their condition and is considered a non-threat by a medically trained professional, I don’t believe an employer has any business knowing any medical history of an employee. To give them access to this information is to give them the ability to treat a person differently based on their condition. All that will do is increase the fears that already prevent people who need help from accessing those services.
The second option is even worse. The rules could be changed so that a person who has any medical record of depression and/or suicidal thoughts is not allowed to pilot an aircraft. How many other employers would love to keep out anyone who has that kind of record? You don’t have to be flying an airplane to cause damage. All you need to do is bring a weapon to work. Just like the other option, this would only prevent people who need help from access.
The crash of Germanwings Flight 4U9525 is an absolute tragedy, but we can’t protect ourselves against everything. There is no sure way to safety. Even if we built a completely autonomous airplane, with no human pilot required, the fact that it would be built by human hands would put it at risk for error.
Maybe this is a crazy idea, but I honestly think the only way to prevent tragedies like this is for society as a whole to become more comfortable with mental illness. We need to try to understand and avoid bias judgement. If people didn’t feel like seeking help would stigmatize them, making it hard for them to form relationships or get jobs, they would be more likely to seek that help. And if more of people in need of mental health services seek that help out, they will be less likely to cause these tragedies.
At this point, I have to address a protester’s sign I’ve seen around the internet. As I remember, the sign claims that tragedies caused by Black people is gang violence. When caused my Hispanic people, it’s illegal immigration. When caused by someone of Middle Eastern decent or by someone of Islāmic faith, it’s terrorism. When cause by White people, it’s a mental health tragedy. Looking at the news, I can see why some would notice this trend. I have thought of that as I formed my opinion on this issue. Here is my thought.
Are their solid studies out there of mental illness rates in those cultures and others? Perhaps people living in certain neighborhoods or countries have less access to mental health services than others. I can’t help but wonder, do we debate mental health issues when tragedies like this happen because society finds it difficult to damn a white person, or are white people more like to have mental illnesses on their health records because they have greater access to mental health services?
The truth is, I don’t know. All I know is that, when it comes to mental illness, I believe greater access to mental health services and the abandonment of mental health stigmas would go a long way in preventing similar tragedies.
Do you think there are any laws, regulations or policies that could have prevented the tragedy of Germanwings Flight 4U9525? What policies should be created because of this event? Is society ready to destigmatize mental illness?
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