The news that Germanwings Airbus A320 co-pilot Andreas Lubitz hid an existing illness from his employer is plastered across the media nationally and internationally. This muddies the water, as we wonder whether his mental illness is what led to mass murder. At this point, there are more questions than answers in this case.

The New York Times and others have offered details regarding his mental health, ranging from his being treated for suicidal tendencies to his having been treated by psychotherapists "over a long period of time." But what hasn't been answered fully is why Lubitz did not disclose his mental illness to his employer.

If you are a business owner, let this be a wakeup call. Before you even suspect that one of your employees may have a mental illness, you are going to have to create an environment in which they feel comfortable disclosing their condition, at least to you.

Organizations need to have a system that enables people to come forward and be supported. As we now see, there can be dire consequences associated with a person who hides a mental issue from his employer, ranging from poor performance and productivity to erratic behavior when it is left untreated. However, people need to believe that they are safe to disclose their condition. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, while 1 in 4 adults live with a mental disorder, estimates indicate that nearly two-thirds of all people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment (especially people from diverse communities).

According to Psychology Today there are still attitudes within most societies that view symptoms of psychopathology as threatening and uncomfortable, and these attitudes frequently foster stigma and discrimination toward people with mental health problems. This often causes people to bury their heads deep in the sand. What could have caused Lubitz to hold information about himself so close to his chest? Here are a few explanations of what could have caused him to be secretive.

Stigma.

The lives of people living with mental illness are often drastically altered by the symptoms of the illness and society's reaction to them. While symptoms can usually be mitigated by a number of measures, the inherent stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness may persist for a lifetime and can be manifest in a number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Society's view on mental illness is somewhat deplorable. It is unforgiving of people who have a mental illness, which contrasts starkly with how it views someone with cancer or any other form of a debilitating disease. But let's be real here: People with cancer don't usually kill other people. Mental illness is a serious proposition to encounter, especially when its left untreated. However, the stigma prevents people from seeking help or even letting on that something is wrong with them.

Loss of status.

Some people have worked hard to hold the job they have and/or to achieve the status that fuels their passion. Being diagnosed and living with a mental illness could change all that in the blink of an eye because mental illness is a life sentence with life-altering affects. It is not uncommon for the afflicted to isolate themselves and drop out of society.

There are measurable losses associated with disclosing a mental illness. It's common for the mentally ill to be taken off a project that is perceivably high profile or stressful. Then there is the real chance of losing a job. Of course, we hear that people are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); employers must accommodate the mentally ill just as they do the physically ill. But that often does not happen. People are sometimes shamed or harassed into quitting. Sometimes people wind up displaying behaviors that aren't conducive to the workplace because they are fearful of letting on that something is wrong and they go to work even after a doctor has excused them from work (as one of the documents found among Andreas Lubitz's belongings indicated).

Cost.

Many people don't realize the tangible cost of mental illness, ranging from increased health care expenses to being denied insurance. Oh, yes, there is Obamacare, which eliminates pre-existing conditions as a reason insurance can be denied. If you are insured under that program, you can't be denied coverage, charged more, or denied treatment based on health status. But that's not a reality with many major insurance companies that small businesses utilize. I can personally attest to being denied insurance. In another case, my insurance rate went up based on my mental illness. Then there is the cost of receiving help, especially if you aren't insured. According to Kaiser Health News, even though more Americans have access to health insurance because of the health law, getting access to mental health services may still be challenging.

Fear.

Fear greatly affects the mentally ill because they have been handed a possible life sentence facing any of the five major categories of mental illness diagnosis--anxiety disorder, mood disorders, schizophrenia/psychotic disorder, dementia, and eating disorders. This basically means that the life you have come to know as normal will forever be changed with an actual diagnosis.

The documents found indicating a medical condition could have indicated a mental illness which could easily throw someone into a deep depression. The fear can be all-consuming when you don't know what to expect and what to do next. Depending on when and how one finds out that he has a mental illness this can greatly impact his life. People usually receive a diagnosis after some physical neglect, behaviors, or thoughts have led to needing medical attention, whether from a general practitioner or psychiatrist. Any news that something is wrong with you mentally can set you off and cause you to spiral out of control and sometimes into a cycle that resembles that of the Elizabeth Kubler Ross Death and Dying Cycle. This fear causes people to isolate, go into denial, and have bouts of anger.

Published on: Mar 31, 2015
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