Mental Ill health reporting & the recent German air disaster

Dear Editors:

I write as a mental health advocate, the only declared user of mental health services who sits on the National Mental Health Commission of Barbados. And I write to ask for media personnel to re-examine their policies on reports that involve the mental health history of individuals who are associated with disasters. I include in the list of people to whom this call is addressed all the popular unofficial news carriers who blog and tweet and so on.

Those passengers who died so tragically on that German plane have left loved ones whose hearts can only be torn apart. So I first come in solidarity with them. Your pain is unimaginable. I weep with you as do many throughout the world who also pray for your comfort.

I have no idea whether the co-pilot had a full blown mental health crisis in the middle of his duty or not. And I do not defend a right for people with mental health illnesses crises to be allowed to fly, drive, serve food to or teach young people.

Consider this, where does that leave the inhabitants of the world who at any point in their life have experienced such a crisis? Should that be the reason for not allowing people like myself to work as I see some responses to the air disaster news stories are doing? And given that heart problems, diabetes, inner ear dysfunctions, and other such ill health conditions which can, in moments of crisis, produce confusion that impair judgement. They join the list of such workers.

I suppose for others who are in perfect health at all times who can never experience crisis it may seem reasonable to dis-bar those who may endanger lives or minds by their own ill health crises. Are there many of these? Does not the bus driver who sneezes at the wrong moment put many lives in danger? However, you may think this in-admissable as an analogy to a person with a life-long diagnosis of certain mental conditions that bring on ill-health flying a plane at the precise moment he decides to commit suicide.

(IMAGE VIA: iran-daily.com) Is that not the point though? How does the fact that I self-committed to the Psychiatric Hospital for two days when I felt I was going into bi-polar crisis a reason for the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus to find excuse to lay me off? And trust me, messing with the minds of the vulnerable is as bad as killing them on a hill-side. At least the latter die once and at once.

(IMAGE VIA: iran-daily.com) Is that not the point though? How does the fact that I self-committed to the Psychiatric Hospital for two days when I felt I was going into bi-polar crisis a reason for the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus to find excuse to lay me off? And trust me, messing with the minds of the vulnerable is as bad as killing them on a hill-side. At least the latter die once and at once.

When media personnel, trained, everyone believes, to merely carry the news in an impartial magisterial fashion determine to put into our minds causal linkages between mental health illness and disaster, perhaps you do more harm than the good you intend in bringing all the news.

In this month of the Dis-abled in Barbados when you led us all to consider how the society fits together, all of us differently abled, you might want to consider what are the special training needs for yourselves in this regard. Normal may not be “blood on the studio floor” as one radio announcer explains is the motto for good programming, or in this case reporting. It may be usual, but I hardly think it is normal.

By the way, I said I was the only self-declared user of mental health services on the Barbados NMHC. The Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) records that 4 in 10 people world-wide are so affected. Count four individuals next to you and be sure to leave yourself out.

Guidance,
Margaret D. Gill

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