From The Washington Times: Mental Illness and Murder in the Air

The Washington Times


By Richard E. Vatz – – April 1, 2015


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Ask yourself this question: When you hear that Andreas Lubitz<> was “depressed” and had “mental illness,” what additional information does this give anyone about the miserable miscreant who killed 149 innocent people by setting an Airbus A320 on a trajectory to crash into the French Alps? Or how to stop the next one?


What if you ignored the prurient search for psychopathological explanations and settled for this common-sense explanation: Mr. Lubitz was a self-important 27 year-old who was rejected by a reputedly pregnant “love interest,” a rebuffing some news outlets have plausibly indicated may have been one motivating factor in this vicious crime. Moreover, as more credible but selective information comes forth, we learn as well that the killer may have worried that he would be found medically unfit to fly, scuttling a long-held dream of his to pilot long-haul jetliners,

The empty ritual of specifying a “mental illness,” which caused the allegedly “medically ill” Mr. Lubitz to kill so many innocent men, women and children is revealed by a variety of radio and television interviews in which psychological experts have declaimed on the need to, in different variations, “diagnose the illness that Mr. Lubitz hid.” The implication is that if airlines required just the right diagnostic tests, mental illnesses that cause homicidal acts can be detected and such sick people can be kept from flying commercial planes.

Repeatedly, the cause-all of “depression” has been assigned to Mr. Lubitz. Hints that he was suffering from a “serious depressive episode” are rife in media reports. Examples are a CNN Anderson Cooper-Sanjay Gupta analysis of the psychological triggers that may have caused killings as well as analyses such as a Washington Post article citing the always-suspicious but implicitly material “suspected background of clinical depression.”

You could search psychological and psychiatric literature on depression and you will find no serious link to mass murder. People who are seriously depressed, with or without diagnosis, lose energy, lose goal-pursuing activity and are profoundly sad — not violent.

Many people hunger for some way to repeal the fact that there are inveterately evil people among us who will for little reason take out the frustrations of their failing lives, as they view them, not just on themselves but on persons who seem happier. Such miscreants cannot be identified by mental health experts beyond citing the likelihood that a would-be pilot might engage in risky or dangerous behavior. Obviously, such identification should be accomplished to the best of their ability.

The fact is that there are no tests — psychological or otherwise — that identify murderers; if there were, they would have been used long ago. Mental health experts are not soothsayers. They cannot foretell the future, and consistent evidence demonstrates the lack of such experts’ prognosticating ability in predicting dangerous behavior.

The reason that such professionals are seen as diviners of maladaptive or evil behavior is that the credulous public believes that these experts are diagnosing an illness.

They are not.

More important is that mystifying psychological analysis blinds us to the fact that only a commonsensical analysis of preventative measures can lessen, but not eliminate, the triumph of the highly motivated self-important murderer.

Screening future and present pilots through “mental health assessments” may prevent some unstable pilots from flying, but the rare evil malefactor cannot and will not be identified.

There are everywhere questions being asked regarding why the airlines didn’t know of the “medical problem” that allegedly impelled the co-pilot to murder the victims. The medical source will be discovered when the medical cause of any killing is discovered: never.

There will always be some mystifying cause advanced for malicious behavior. What, for example, is the medical cause for Islamic State members to massacre or burn alive people they view as deserving death?

The victims of Germanwings Flight 9525 were killed in a premeditated mass murder. 

Let’s eliminate the psychological historiographies and try to make such outrages less easy to accomplish.


• Richard E. Vatz, a professor at Towson University, is psychology editor at USA Today Magazine, an editor for Current Psychology, and the author of “The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion” (Kendall Hunt, 2012).


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