Focus on Germanwings co-pilot's illness may raise stigma

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The world's attention has been focused on the tragic Germanwings plane crash in France, and the mental health of its young co-pilot. (WPVI)

For more than a week, the world's attention has been focused on the tragic Germanwings plane crash in France, and the mental health of its young co-pilot.

We don't know exactly why Andreas Lubitz may have flown that plane into the mountain.

But the focus on his depression has some mental health professionals concerned.

It's an unimaginable act - deliberately crashing a plane.

However, psychiatrist Dr. Sachin Mehta of Belmont Behavioral Health of Einstein Healthcare Network says we shouldn't think others with depression will commit similar acts.

"This is an extremely rare event. We almost never see any kind of significant violence when we are treating people with depression," said Dr. Mehta.

He says the one-point-four million Americans who attempt suicide every year usually do it alone and out of public view.

He says however, that the co-pilot's efforts to hide his illness, and even throw away medications, are more common behaviors, often driven by the stigma surrounding mental illness.

For men, reluctance to talk about or even acknowledge emotions can be a major factor.

All too often, people who do get treatment stop their medication, thinking they are fine and don't need it.

The doctor now fears even more people will try to keep their ailments secret,at a time when the atmosphere was just opening up.

"It definitely increases the stigma that goes along with mental illness," says Dr. Mehta.

Instead, he hopes the crash will increase discussion, particularly among men, who account for 80-percent of suicides.

Dr. Mehta says there needs to be a symbol or champion to help break the ice on depression and suicide for men.

"There's a breast cancer movement for women, I think there needs to be a depression movement for men," he says.

"They need a Susan G. Komen," he adds, referring to the organization which has done so much to raise awareness and open discussion on breast cancer.

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