What can the Germanwings Disaster tell us about Suicide?
Tuesday March 24th. 10:40am. Germanwings Flight 9525 goes off the radar.
150 lives are lost.
The world saw news break of the Germanwings Airbus A320 airliner crash in the French Alps near Digne on a flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. This aviation tragedy saw the loss of 150 lives. Most recent news of the crash after the inspection of the planes black box has brought about speculation that this tragedy was a suicide/mass murder by the planes co-pilot Andreas Lubitz.
Lubitz, 27, was alone in the cockpit as the pilot left when ‘nature called’ him away. Examination of the black box was able to disclose that the descent into the French Alps was not a malfunction but the intent of Lubitz. Media reports flooding in have been quick to highlight the evident suffering of the pilot.
Above all this devastating tragedy warns us of the dangers of stigmatising mental suffering. During the course of Lubitz training with Lufthansa he had taken a sabbatical due to battles with depression and suicidal thoughts. At the time he had sought help and thereafter continued his aviation training.
What has emerged is that a black mark will be put on a pilot’s record if they have concerns related to their mental health. Although this is a policy aimed at protection it leaves little room for a pilot to seek out help if they are suffering in any way. A policy of this sort is not conducive to a person looking for professional help.
A question that seems to have fallen on the lips of many is “Why?” This painful question appears after most, if not every suicide. Unfortunately the exact answer can never be known as it is only the person who has taken their life that can tell us. The why is specific to the who in these cases.
However, what we can shed light on are some of the mechanisms that take place within the person that suffers from suicidal thoughts.
What can be said about Suicide?
The enigma of suicidal ideation has driven many theorists to seek out an explanation to this puzzling and tragic struggle. Suicide is often seen as a symptomatic act related to depression and melancholy. Although the reason for suicide is subjective and must be treated in an individualistic way there are some general theories on what happens to the person that is plagued with these thoughts.
One popular theory tells us it is a defence against anxiety. It can result as a desperate act to counter an overwhelming experience or anxiety. Connected to this is an understanding of suicide as related to an instinct for destruction.
It is widely accepted that humans have a very powerful instinct to adapt and survive in testing conditions at all costs. Less widely known is that an opposing, destructive instinct resides in us as well. This is termed the death drive. It is an aggressive and deadly impulse that aims at self-harm and self-criticism.
In day-to-day life there is a battle between these two instincts. Less-harmfully we can be quite confident and self-content at one point but at other times we can be quite harsh and self-critical of our actions. Mental suffering can reach a dangerous point when the death instinct begins to overwhelm our desire to survive or fight. Self-harming, aggression, addictions and suicidal thoughts are symptoms of a death drive casting a menacing shadow.
In many cases the person will not be able to locate the reason for these destructive thoughts and their overwhelming desire to end their life. They can struggle to find the words to explain this desire, this drive to cease to live. This is where talking these thoughts through with a professional can so often prove crucial.
What can you Do?
Often when a person is having suicidal thoughts there is fear about talking about them – about saying the words aloud that you no longer want to live. This is a problem that people in the thousands, if not millions, around the world suffer from. A lot of shame can surround a person who experiences thoughts and fantasies of this nature.
This does not have to be so. Truth be told this instinct for destruction resides in all of us. There is no need to feel shamed or different. Sharing these thoughts can be life saving.
Taking the first step by speaking with a family member, friend, or colleague can be enough to set the wheels of recovery in motion. From there seeking out professional help is the second step whether it be your local GP, a helpline or contacting a mental health professional.
In psychotherapeutic treatment the person suffering from suicidal thoughts is invited to bring this material into the sessions and in working through these ideas they are able to uncover the function of this destructive instinct and lessen its grip.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please call for help.
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