Could Psych Evaluations have prevented Flight 9525 Calamity ?
Suicide does not seem like an apt word to describe the incident of Germanwings flight 9525. The co-pilot deliberately locked the captain out of the cockpit, and activated the descent that drove the plane into French Alps. The drastic collision took the life of the co-pilot and 149 other lives. The possibility of a technology failure was ruled out with-in hours of the disaster when black box was found which revealed the deliberate actions of the co-pilot that lead to the crash. Since then, discussions have focused on preventive measures to stop such calamities in future like tighter psychological evaluations and making a compulsion to have two personal in the cockpit at all times. Media agencies have also been beaconing perplexed theories on what could have convinced co-pilot Andreas Lubitz to commit such a tragic act.
The suggestions of media compounded with the discovery of the medical note suggesting Lubitz was unfit for duty has forced aviation industry to reiterate the psychological examinations involved in the recruitment process and beyond. Psych evaluations are however based on behavioural trends. Although human mind and emotions are supremely complex, similarities in our behaviour are what help us in our classification and identification of mental conditions. Most mental disorders cannot be diagnosed with blood tests, x-rays etc., rather psychologists look for symptoms in behaviours and thought-pattern that have been previously exhibited by other individuals. To me, behaviour of an individual who is ready to give his life and kill hundreds in the process is an outlier to say the least. We are trying to map the mind of an individual who was suicidal and violent enough to kill hundreds of people. Rigorous psych evaluations is not the solution, detecting such an anomaly requires mind reading. Acts like these are unpredictable, that’s what makes them so horrific.
Also see this article in The Guardian – ” Psychological tests for Pilots cannot prevent crashes say experts”
To me, the act is more violent in nature than suicidal. Lubitz could have found dozen other ways to commit suicide without killing hundred others in the process. Hence, the attempts to automatically link his actions to a mental illness like depression seem irrational and irresponsible.. Major depression, although a slight risk factor, does not automatically translate into violence.
In the wake of such a tragedy, we hunt for answers. But, haste can result in mistaken rationalisations. These explanations do more harm than good. The swift conclusions narrow our vision, and the actual truth might be beyond those restrictions. Violence might have more co-relation with possession than depression; scientific circles might be sceptical of the nature of possession but it is nonetheless a condition experienced by an un-ignorable number. This is not a theory, just an example. Furthermore, these hasty mental diagnosis and correlations stigmatise mental illness. It distances the general public from those who are suffering from these mental illnesses.
A nicely written article in The Atlantic – “Depressed does not mean Dangerous“