[trigger warning: suicide and mental illness mention]
A few weeks ago, Pilot Andreas Lubitz crashed Airbus A320—resulting in a loss of 150 lives, including his own. While little is known about the incident—motives, final thoughts, etc.—knowledge has surfaced that Lubitz was diagnosed with a mental illness and hid this information from his employer. This recent tragedy has sparked a conversation on mental health, especially health concerning the workplace. Immediately major questions have come up in the debate, such as, “What is mental health?”; “How serious is mental health?”; and “How should we, as a community, deal with mental health?”
I’d like to start off by clearly stating this: mental health concerns real illnesses that affect an individual’s life just as much as any other physical disease does. Mental illnesses are not easily “fixed” and should be discussed with the same language used for any other illness. Mental health concerns a variety of topics, from fluctuating stress levels to serious mental illnesses such as depression and psychosis. For years, mental health has been stigmatized with statements that demean illnesses and phrases that ignore real issues affecting individuals. Mental health is not always taken seriously due to these stigmas, and even with recent events, many employers do not find stress, depression, or anxiety to be “valid reasons” for employees to get time off work. Since signs of mental illnesses are not typically seen, they may be brushed off with the phrase “it’s all in your head.” This fear of faking, or being “crazy” leads to individuals hiding their illnesses, just as Andreas Lubitz did, and suffering in isolation.
Thankfully, the Loomis community overtly supports students to consult guidance counselors or to take R&R days. Although Loomis presents the pursuit of scholarship as tantamount to “being your best self,” the nurses, teachers, and other faculty members understand that the importance of health is not to be undermined. However, we now, as an evolving community, need to focus our attention on nurturing Loomis into a place where students encourage healthier views of mental health. Talk of suicide is almost completely taboo in Loomis—I don’t mean to aimlessly throw this serious concept around—but actually to discuss this dense topic in an intelligent and informative manner that creates a dialogue, fostering understanding and patience. Suicide affects a huge portion of the teenage community in the United States, and Loomis should definitely take a major step in opening up the dialogue associated with this particular topic by starting talks in increments. For example, we can discuss the basic symptoms of a suicidal people and methods to deal with suicidal thoughts (or a friend with suicidal thoughts). I understand that the concept of suicide is scary and certainly uncomfortable for most – but that is the very reason that I have to bring up this topic. Schools and workplaces are afraid to bring up suicide because it spells out danger and consequences (legal, financial, etc.), but starting these conversations arm these communities with knowledge against what they may not know about mental health. Opening the discussion on mental health promotes the idea that “it’s okay to not be okay,” and that one should not be ashamed for being stressed, anxious, or depressed. The discussion can also bring individuals who are suffering to meet with counselors, and deal with emotions in a healthy way. Promoting education on mental health will not result in a myriad of students harming themselves, but achieve the opposite instead. A telling and evocative discussion equips individuals with a better understanding of his emotions, thereby allowing the creation of a greatly needed self-reflective moment. Understanding mental health is surely the key to driving Loomis towards its “best self.”