Why don’t more victims of depression call for help? Some people who do wind up not with help but a giant medical bill.
They say that 10 million Americans seriously consider committing suicide every year. In 1984, when I was 20, I was one of them.
Most people who kill themselves feel hopeless. They are miserable and distraught and can’t imagine how or if their lives will ever improve. That’s how I felt. Within a few months I got expelled from college, dumped by a girlfriend I foolishly believed I would marry, fired from my job and evicted from my apartment. I was homeless, bereft, broke. I didn’t have enough money for more than a day of cheap food. And I had no prospects.
I tried in vain to summon up the guts to jump off the roof of my dorm. I went down to the subway but couldn’t make myself jump in front of a train. I wanted to. But I couldn’t.
Obviously things got better. I’m writing this.
Things got better because my luck changed. But — why did it have to? Isn’t there something wrong with a society in which life or death turns on luck?
I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self that suicide isn’t necessary, that there is another way, that there will be plenty of time to be dead in the end. I’ve seen those other ways when I’ve traveled overseas.
In Thailand and Central Asia and the Caribbean and all over the world you will find Americans whose American lives ran hard against the shoals of bankruptcy, lost love, addiction or social shame. Rather than off themselves, they gathered their last dollars and headed to the airport and went somewhere else to start over. They showed up at some dusty ex-pat bar in the middle of nowhere with few skills other than speaking English and asked if they could crash in the back room in between washing dishes. Eventually they scraped together enough money to conduct tours for Western tourists, maybe working as a divemaster or taking rich vacationers deep-sea fishing. They weren’t rich themselves; they were OK and that was more than enough.
You really can start over. But maybe not in this uptight, stuck-up, class-stratified country.
I remembered that in 2015 when I suffered another setback. Unbeknownst to me, the Los Angeles Times — where I had worked as a cartoonist since 2009 – had gotten itself into a corrupt business deal with the LAPD, which I routinely criticized in my cartoons. A piece-of-work police chief leveraged his department’s financial influence on the newspaper by demanding that the idiot ingénue publisher, his political ally, fire me as a favor. But mere firing wasn’t enough for these two goons. They published not one, but two articles, lying about me in an outrageous attempt to destroy my journalistic credibility. I’m suing but the court system is slower than molasses in the pre-climate change Arctic.
Suicide crossed my mind many times during those dark weeks and months. Although I had done nothing wrong the Times’ smears made me feel ashamed. I was angry: at the Times editors who should have quit rather than carry out such shameful orders, at the media outlets who refused to cover my story, at the friends and colleagues who didn’t support me. Though many people stood by me, I felt alone. I couldn’t imagine salvaging my reputation — as a journalist, your reputation for truthtelling and integrity are your most valuable asset and essential to do your job and to get new ones.
As my LA Times nightmare unfolded, however, I remembered the Texas-born bartender who had reinvented himself in Belize after his wife left him and a family court judge ordered him to pay 90% of his salary in alimony. I thought about the divemaster in Cozumel running away from legal trouble back in the States that he refused to describe. If my career were to crumble away, I could split.
You can opt out of BS without having to opt out of life.
Up 30% since 1999, suicide has become an accelerating national epidemic — 1.4 million Americans tried to kill themselves in a single year, 2015 — but the only times the media focuses on suicide is when it claims the lives of celebrities like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. While the media has made inroads by trying to cover high-profile suicides discreetly so as to minimize suicidal ideation and inspiring others to follow their example, it’s frustrating that no one seems to want to identify societal and political factors so that this trend might be reversed.
Experts believe that roughly half of men who commit suicide suffer from undiagnosed mental illness such as a severe personality disorder or clinical depression. Men commit suicide in substantially higher numbers than women. The healthcare insurance business isn’t much help. One in five Americans is mentally ill but 60% get no treatment at all.
Then there’s stress. Journalistic outlets and politicians don’t target the issue of stress in any meaningful way other than to foolishly, insipidly advise people to avoid it. If you subject millions of people to inordinate stress, some of them, the fragile ones, will take their own lives. We should be working to create a society that minimizes rather than increases stress.
It doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting to come up with major sources of stress in American society. People are working longer hours but earning lower pay. Even people with jobs are terrified of getting laid off without a second’s notice. The American healthcare system, designed to fatten for-profit healthcare corporations, is a sick joke. When you lose your job or get sick, that shouldn’t be your problem alone. We’re social creatures. We must help each other personally, locally and through strong safety-net social programs.
Loneliness and isolation are likely leading causes of suicide; technology is alienating us from one another even from those who live in our own homes. This is a national emergency. We have to discuss it, then act.
Life in the United States has become vicious and brutal, too much to take even for this nation founded upon the individualistic principles of rugged libertarian pioneers. Children are pressured to exhibit fake joy and success on social media. Young adults are burdened with gigantic student loans they strongly suspect they will never be able to repay. The middle-aged are divorced, outsourced, downsized and repeatedly told they are no longer relevant. And the elderly are thrown away or warehoused, discarded and forgotten by the children they raised.
We don’t have to live this way. It’s a choice. Like the American ex-pats I run into overseas, American society can opt out of crazy-making capitalism without having to opt out.
Leftists want to change the world. They want peace, equal income, equal wealth, equal rights for everybody.
Democrats are not part of the Left. If Democrats have their way, the fundamental inequality of American capitalism, a system in which 1% of the people “earn” 82% of the income, will never change. Democrats apply identity politics as a distraction, in lieu of systematic solutions to class-based discrimination. Democrats demand more women directors in Hollywood, more African-Americans admitted to Ivy League schools, transgendered soldiers in the military so they can join the slaughter of brown people in other countries.
Donald Trump represented a rare opportunity for the Left. After eight years of fascism with a smile, the American system got a figurehead as visually and tonally repugnant as its foreign policy (drones, aggressive wars, coups, undermining popular elected leaders) and its domestic reality (widespread poverty, crumbling infrastructure, no social safety net, for-profit healthcare and education). “Hey,” the Left could finally say, “the U.S. is a disgusting monster headed by a disgusting monster. Let’s get rid of that monster!”
It has become painfully apparent that Democrats have hijacked the anti-Trump Resistance.
“I feel like the revolution is now,” a demonstrator at last weekend’s second Women’s March told a New York Times reporter. “I want equal pay,” added her 11-year-old daughter, Xenaya, chimed in. “And equal rights.”
Definition of “revolution”: “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.”
At those very same marches, however, (establishment Democratic) speakers like Nancy Pelosi and Kirsten Gillibrand urged women to run for office (presumably as Democrats) and to support Democratic candidates (whether they’re women or men). Even if you think that is a beautiful and important idea, it is not revolution.
Running for office and validating the status quo by voting for major-party candidates is the exact opposite of revolution.
USA Today’s take was typical: “Women’s March returns, but the real focus now is the midterm elections.” The paper quotes Linda Meigs, who is challenging a GOP incumbent in Alabama: “I just feel that there’s a blue wave coming, and it’s a wave of women – women who were energized by the Women’s March and by what’s going on in Washington in the White House.”
Meigs is probably right. Even Republicans think so. But so what?
Even if Democrats take back the House and the Senate, women Resisters who fall for the Dems’ co-option game hoping for “equal pay” and “equal rights” will be sorely disappointed. Not because Trump will get in the way — because Democrats won’t fight for anything substantial.
Consider the Democrat most Women’s Marchers probably voted for. Like the rest of her fellow Democrats, Hillary Clinton (a multimillionaire) supported raising the minimum wage to a pitiful $12 per hour. (If it had merely kept up with inflation, it would be $23 per hour now. Given increases in worker productivity, it ought to be at least $25 per hour.)
Nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage earners are women.
Clinton gets better-a-century-late-than-never cred for endorsing the long-stalled Equal Rights Amendment. But Democrats controlled the White House, House and Senate as recently as 2010 — and never mentioned it.
Even on the signature identity-politics issue of abortion rights, Democrats have long deployed a form of psychological terrorism against women. Unless you vote for us, they’ve been telling women, some Republican president might appoint a Supreme Court justice who might cast the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Women and their partners shouldn’t have to rely on a wobbly 45-year-old court decision. Why don’t Democrats ever propose a bill legalizing abortion nationwide? Considering that 58% of voters, including many Republicans, support abortion rights, and that Democrats could characterize Congressional opponents as misogynists in attack ads, it’s entirely possible that an abortion-rights law could pass Congress. They certainly could have tried under Obama. But they didn’t. Because Democrats don’t care about people. Democrats care about electing and collecting campaign donations for Democrats.
There is no reason — zero, none, nada — to believe that the Democratic Party’s half-century-old refusal to lift a finger to help the disenfranchised will change if and when they win back Congress. Which makes the squandering of the anti-Trump historical moment so tragic.
It’s time for the actually-existing American Left to do some serious soul-searching, analysis and — most of all — organizing. Why didn’t militant leftists insist on greater prominence at the Women’s Marches than those Democratic hacks? Where is the grassroots organizing? Where are the left-wing thinktanks to create an intellectual and theoretical basis for our arguments? Why aren’t there protests daily, as opposed to annually? Trump and the Republicans and the Democrats shouldn’t be able to show their faces in public without facing a crowd of loud and angry protesters.
It’s not like the Democrats are a fiendishly clever adversary! Allowing the idiots who chose Hillary over Bernie to steal anti-Trumpism points to complete impotence and political incompetence on the part of what’s left of the Left.
(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” co-written with Harmon Leon. His next book will be “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
One of the points many women have made since the beginning of the current national discussion about sexual assault and harassment has been that sexism and misogyny have cost women countless opportunities to achieve their full potential. Probably because this began with Harvey Weinstein, much of the mourning of opportunity costs focused on Hollywood: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd mentioned her reaction to research she did on the topic: “I got more and more angry as I realized that these women were being systematically excluded based on ridiculous biases.”
It’s an excellent, long-overdue point: Who could possibly count how many brilliant women have been denied high-profile roles as actors and directors and studio executives as the result of the studios’ toxic “casting couch” culture? How much great insight and entertainment have the rest of us, including men, lost because we have been denied the full expression of women censored because they refused to sleep with some nasty executive?
Outside the world of entertainment, might cancer have been cured had more women been encouraged to enter a STEM career?
At the same time, there are many other forms of discrimination that have similar effects, yet they’re so hardwired into the system that we don’t give them much thought.
Most of these tragic cases of human underachievement are the direct result of economic discrimination. There is the guy who would be a great poet if not for the fact that he grew up in rural West Virginia and his parents were poor and uneducated so it never occurred to them to point him towards a career that, had they heard of it, would seem useless and impossible to turn into a viable means of making a living — which, because they were poor, was the only thing they could think about.
There is the woman working as a cashier in the Bronx who might have gone to Yale if she had been granted a scholarship or had been born into a wealthy family, the woman who would have created an amazing computer company had the sexist pigs who compose Silicon Valley’s V.C. class given her pitch a fair hearing, the girl of color sitting in class in a rundown elementary school whose horizons have become a sinkhole thanks to mere demographics.
You can turn this around and look at it from the other side as well. Think of all the profiles you’ve read about an actor who scored his big break due to pure happenstance (as opposed to talent). You may have such a story yourself. If you think about it, though, the random lucky break is not a heartwarming confirmation that the universe provides what you need. Those breaks are few and far-between. The terrifying truth is that most people who deserve them never get them — and that sucks. It reflects the arbitrary and capricious nature of a system that barely pretends to be a smidge of a meritocracy.
I feel luckier than most. Even so, there are many things that I was never able to do simply because I didn’t have enough money: attend the college of my choice, study the major of my choice, join the Peace Corps, take a gap year and travel through Europe, get knee surgery, accept an internship, attend the grad school that accepted me but didn’t offer me financial aid, start a small newspaper, tell a jerky boss to go to hell. I doubt that many people reading this would have trouble composing an even longer list of things they would have liked to do, places they would have liked to see, businesses they would have liked to start, all out of reach due to a lack of funds.
Aside from stifling our dreams and crushing our ambitions, our cult of capitalism denies us the broad-based political debate that might solve many of our most pressing problems. Due to the pro-corporate, right-wing political bias of the mainstream media, all the left-wing ideas that never get expressed in the opinion pages and society are denied distribution, meaning that they never get discussed. For example, antiwar voices are never allowed space in major newspapers, radio news broadcasts, or on television. Surely that rigid censorship has something to do with the fact that the United States has constantly been at war since the American Revolution. When is the last time you heard a politician or pundit argue that we ought to spend more on mitigating climate change than we do on the military?
Capitalism is presented as an ideology that allows people to fulfill their ambitions and make the most of themselves, but in reality it’s exactly the opposite: it constrains people to what they can achieve based upon what’s in their bank account or in their parents’ estate. So the United States has been one of the least socially mobile societies in the industrialized world for quite some time (and it’s getting worse) but most Americans don’t have a clue. This caste system also applies to everyone. Even under a construct of systematic sexism and misogyny, a wealthy woman enjoys far more opportunity than a poor man.
This is not to say that women don’t have every right to rage against men, or to understate the validity of women’s complaints about male misdeeds ranging from contempt to physical assault. The sexual assault and harassment discussion is yet another reminder that the fundamental underlying cause of the problem is power and its inevitable abuse.
It has long been a standard argument of feminists that the world would be a better place if women were in charge.
Certainly more women should be in charge: exactly 50% of the people in charge ought to be women. But we need to look beyond sexism to understand the meta root cause behind unjustly (and foolishly) squandering countless human potential. Whether that waste is directly attributable to discrimination based upon race, gender, or some other factor, it will continue as long as we live in a society whose foundation relies upon the disgusting assumption that only those who can afford it have the right to be everything that they can be.
(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) next book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
I’m white, male, able-bodied, educated, tall. Got a solid resume. I’m relatively adaptable. I started out as one of hundreds of professional political cartoonists. Now there are fewer than 20. Yet I’m freaked out.
I’ve survived poverty, getting mugged and being shot at and managed to remain pretty calm. But I’m more worried now.
Given how relatively good I have it, I can’t imagine how freaked out everyone else must be. Like, for example, black people when they get stopped by cops. Or Tamir Rice’s parents.
There are countless anxiety-inducing news stories tailor-made for this news junkie with a special interest in economics and the Middle East. This week alone, the Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen widened into a full-fledged Sunni-Shia diplomatic rift over the execution of a Shia cleric. Scary. Then there’s the falling stock market, which controls me, over which I have no influence, and against whose effects I am unequipped to protect myself. The boom-bust cycle of capitalism is giving us bigger, more frequent troughs punctuated by shorter boomlets whose benefits all go to the top 1%.
I can’t believe anyone likes capitalism. Most people are a paycheck away from homelessness. Jobs are scarce. Jobs keep paying less. Bosses keep getting meaner. Everything gets more expensive.
Capitalism is so depressing it makes one nostalgic for Soviet-era queues for toilet paper.
In what is in danger of becoming a pattern for me, I have to apologize to the Baby Boom generation, specifically for rolling my eyes when Boomers whined about turning 50. That’s when you lose your job, can’t find a new one, struggle to care for aging parents while feeling your own body start to fall apart. They were right. The fifties are a bitch. (Though fiftysomething Gen Xers have less cash than they did.)
To mangle Hunter S. Thompson, last year got weird. I’m trying to go pro, but I’m not sure what that means.
2015 was the year when what used to be my boring safe job, drawing political cartoons, became more dangerous than my other job, part-time war correspondent.
Psycho gunmen slaughtered my colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, making France the nation where a journalist was most likely to get murdered in 2015. More psycho gunmen tried to shoot up a right-wing anti-Muslim cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, only to get themselves killed by the local SWAT team. There were always death threats; now they’re scarier and more specific.
After Charlie and Garland, you’d think newspapers and magazines would have rallied around what’s left of American editorial cartooning. There is zero, zip, nada support for American cartoonists by editors or publishers. Post-Charlie, they all wrote passionate editorials defending free speech. They said nice things about cartooning. While they fired more cartoonists. Refused to hire any. Stopped printing them.
The cowards didn’t even reprint the Charlie cartoons so their readers could see what the fuss was about.
The annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in Columbus inaugurated the new normal: police police police, police dogs, police snipers on the roof. When I went on tour to publicize my book Snowden, security became a routine part of the equation — for the first time in nearly 20 books.
No wonder no one under 30 wants to become a political cartoonist. Not only is there no work and no respect, your impoverished ass might get shot with an AR-15.
So then a few weeks ago I looked at my chest. I probably do this more than you do, because a wart on my chest once nearly killed me. I noticed a new bump. A growing new bump. I found myself in the somewhat ridiculous role of the first male in three weeks to pass through the automatic doors of the rhodamine-pink special Breast building at my hospital. I’m anti-sexist. Still, it does something to a man to be quizzed about his menstrual and lactation histories. Not to mention worrying about the possibility of becoming one of the couple of thousand American men who get breast cancer each year — you just know the system isn’t set up for that.
Fortunately, I dodged that bullet. Just a lipoma.
A bullet that hit me square in the chest last year, albeit metaphorically, was fired by Nick Goldberg, an editor at The Los Angeles Times. He accused me of lying in his newspaper, a grave offense in journalism unless your name is Bill O’Reilly, and fired me. I hadn’t lied. He was wrong. After I presented proof that I’d told the truth, the Times — under pressure, since the Internet was going crazy due to their disgusting refusal to reconsider — didn’t issue a retraction or hire me back. Presumably fearing a lawsuit, they doubled down. Goldberg still draws a salary. Not me.
I used to be a sound sleeper. Head hit the pillow, I was gone until morning.
No more. Insomnia is my new normal. I’m jittery, nervous, distrusting. Lots of nightmares. If you can be so totally wronged, libeled by a corporation that’s literally trying to destroy your career because of its opaque conflict of interest with outside parties (the Los Angeles Police Department), and it doesn’t make any difference when you prove you’re innocent, where common sense and human decency no longer hold sway, well, that’s a weird, unsettling world where you can never relax. If I get four hours a night, that’s better than most.
The thing that surprises me most about workplace shootings is that there are so few of them.
Under the doctrine that 2015 sucked so hard, 2016 has got to be better, I’m cautiously optimistic about the coming year. Yet anxiety remains.
My new graphic biography Bernie is about Bernie Sanders. Sales figures will be directly proportionate to the senator’s performance in the primaries. There’s cause for optimism in New Hampshire but the South is a challenge and now you’ve got The New York Times skewing expectations by suddenly claiming that the Iowa caucuses are do or die for Bernie, even though no one thought he was going to win there before. It’s Hillary’s campaign to lose. I knew that. But it was hers to lose in 2008, and she did.
What if Bernie crashes and burns? Then my book dies. Or what if Bernie becomes the nominee, and the book gets huge — will there be enough security? If not, I die. Anxiety turns everything into a lose-lose.
Behind all that anxiety, of course, is money. Not enough of it.
Every month that I manage to pay all the bills is a miracle. I move money around, scare up just enough extra work, hustle hustle hustle. My colleagues marvel at my energy. What’s my secret? Being tired all the time, and depressed, and not knowing how I’ll be able to eat in 10 years, much less retire. Probably like you.
Like most Americans, I don’t have substantial retirement savings. If I don’t work, I live maybe a year or two before moving to the great outdoors.
I fantasize about a soft landing. Maybe some magazine or website or newspaper will take me on full-time. Maybe with benefits? It’s OK, I don’t need benefits.
Or an academic gig — teaching journalism or cartooning or history somewhere. It would be fun. I’d be good at it. But where? How? You can’t apply to a college or university; the academic job application process is insanely time-consuming and the reply is always a rejection. An offer has to come to you.
One must trust in the universe. The philosopher Eckhart Tolle says the universe will provide what you need.
Unless it doesn’t.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net and SkewedNews.net, is the author of “Snowden,” about the NSA whistleblower. His new book “Bernie” about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is now available for pre-order. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2016 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
This is what happens when you trust free markets.
You probably heard that the Supreme Court rejected the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, a.k.a. The Great Transfer of Taxpayer Dollars to Scumbag Health Insurance Companies. That news broke during a major news day.
What you likely missed, because it came out on July 3rd when everyone was driving to the beach or flying somewhere fun for their Independence Day weekend getaways instead of paying attention to the news, was that the ACA is tanking. That’s why you have me: to read depressing tidbits about America’s decline, and to annoy Obamabots with another I-told-you-so.
When Obama resurrected 1993’s benighted Hillarycare scheme, I warned that there were two major problems with this convoluted hybrid of government-managed healthcare and for-profit healthcare.
First, the Affordable Care Act kept the insurance companies in business. Aetna, United Healthcare and the other big insurers are a huge drain on the system, sucking out billions in profits and driving up costs. Profitmaking has no place in healthcare, which is a basic human right, like air and water. Air and water are free; healthcare should be free too. But that’s the opposite of what drives health insurers: they want to give you as little care as possible while charging you as much as possible.
Second, the ACA diminished Americans’ zeal for socialized medicine, the standard in the developed world. “In legislation no bread is often better than half a loaf,” Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin Progressive of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pointed out. “Half a loaf, as a rule, dulls the appetite, and destroys the keenness of interest in attaining the full loaf.” I wrote last year: “In 2007, before Obama and his ACA came along, 54% of Americans favored single-payer. Now, thanks to a system that’s better than nothing but not nearly good enough, it’s down to 37%. Hillary Clinton is endorsing Obamacare, and has officially come out against single-payer.”
Now that the public has had a chance to use and pay for Obamacare, support for single-payer is back up to 50%.
Back to that story that broke on the deadest news day of the year. From The New York Times: “Health insurance companies around the country are seeking rate increases of 20% to 40% or more, saying their new customers under the Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected…Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans — market leaders in many states — are seeking rate increases that average 23 percent in Illinois, 25 percent in North Carolina, 31 percent in Oklahoma, 36 percent in Tennessee and 54 percent in Minnesota, according to documents posted online by the federal government and state insurance commissioners and interviews with insurance executives.”
Did your paycheck go up 20%, much less 40%, in the last year? I didn’t think so.
The proper reaction to this disgusting move — remember, we’re talking about a for-profit corporate sector that rakes in billions of dollars a month and pays its CEOs millions of dollars a year — is to line up the executives responsible against a wall and shoot them full of holes, then deny the healthcare claims of any who survive just because, as the rest of us routinely experience.
Since that would be illegal, however, the second-best approach should be to shame the bastards relentlessly on social media, until they’re forced to go join ISIS because people would subject them to Two Minute Hates wherever they go. (Not to say that ISIS, which provides free healthcare, would want these human turds either.)
This is where one naturally turns to political leadership. Surely the President of the United States, a.k.a. He For Whom Obamacare Is Named, will crack down on these insurance pirates?
Not so much. Obama “said that consumers should put pressure on state insurance regulators to scrutinize the proposed rate increases. If commissioners do their job and actively review rates, he said, ‘my expectation is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested.'”
No doubt the healthcare industry itself, which rakes in billions each year from their new involuntary customers, hears our anger.
Not so much. Marinan Williams, CEO of the Scott & White Health Plan in Texas, which applied for a 32% rate hike, says: “Over the next three years, I hope, rates will start to stabilize.” How about we “stabilize” her salary at 32% less than she gets now?
How’s your interest in the “full loaf” — single-payer socialized medicine — now?
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the first biography of NSA whistleblower Edward J. Snowden. It is in graphic novel form, and will publish August 18th. You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Investigators are still putting together the pieces, but from what we know so far, it’s likely that 27-year-old German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz committed mass murder-suicide when he flew a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 149 passengers and fellow crewmen into the French Alps.
Authorities say they haven’t found a suicide note, but it’s a safe bet that Lubitz’s final act was prompted by depression (they found the meds), diminished vision, a deteriorating romantic relationship and his worry that the Lufthansa subsidiary would ground him if they found out about his problems, crashing a career he loved and blowing up his livelihood.
Though rare, pilot suicide isn’t unheard of. As long as the current system remains in place, it will happen again.
By “system,” I’m referring both to specific rules issued by the FAA and other countries’ aviation authorities to regulate pilots, and to that most coldhearted of socioeconomic systems, you’re-on-your-own capitalism.
“Before they are licensed, pilots must undergo a medical exam, conducted by a doctor trained and certified by the aviation agency,” explains The New York Times. Some airlines impose additional screening procedures, but they vary from company to company. Active pilots are required to have a medical screening once a year until they turn 40 and then twice a year after. Only when pilots are found to have mental health problems are they sent to a psychiatrist or psychologist for evaluation or treatment.”
At first glance, an incident like the Germanwings disaster seems to call for increased physical and mental monitoring. But leaning harder on pilots would only fix half the problem.
The current system is punitive – thus it encourages lying.
“But the system, Dr. [Warren] Silberman [a former manager of aerospace medical certification for the FAA] and others said, leaves pilots on an honor system, albeit one reinforced by penalties to discourage them from concealing any health issues that could affect their fitness to fly, including mental illness. Pilots who falsify information or lie about their health face fines that can reach $250,000, according to the FAA.”
Imagine yourself in that position. Knowing that public safety is at risk, you might do the right thing and step forward after your psychiatrist tells you that you shouldn’t be working, as happened to Lubitz. Then again, you might not.
First of all, you might doubt the diagnosis. That’s the thing about mental illness – victims’ judgment can be impaired. For example, there is evidence that Ronald Reagan suffered from early signs of dementia while serving as president. If true, that’s scary – but was the Gipper aware he was fading?
Second, you might think you could handle it, that with the help of psychiatric treatment and antidepressant medications, you could push through what might turn out to be a temporary crisis. Why risk everything over a passing phase?
Third, and this is likely, you might keep your problems to yourself because to do otherwise would ruin your life – or at least feel like it. At bare minimum, it would end your career, forcing you to start from zero. For many people, that seems too horrible to bear. In our society, social status is determined by our careers.
“The stigma [of having a mental illness] is enormous,” Dr. William Hurt Sledge, professor of psychiatry at Yale who has consulted for the FAA, the Air Line Pilots Association and major airlines, told the Times. “And of course, none of them wants that to be known, nor do they want to confess it or believe that they have it.”
And for those who decide to ignore the stigma, what comes next? Where’s the safety net, professional, social and economic, for people who run into trouble, whether of their own making or not?
At the root of Lubitz’s decision to kill himself – whether he gave much thought to the 149 people on the other side of the reinforced cockpit door cannot be known – is that he lived, as we all do in the Western world, in a disposable society. Lose what you do and you lose what you are. The bills keep coming long after the paychecks stop; soon you have nothing left.
I could throw a dart at any daily newspaper to illustrate this point; today it would probably land on the results of an AARP survey that found – unsurprisingly to anyone over age 50 – that a single layoff after that age has devastating, long-term consequences. People over 50 are overwhelmingly more likely to wind up classified among the long-term unemployed and typically wind up earning less if and when they find a new job, often starting again from scratch in a new industry because their experience was in a line of work that no longer has openings.
I imagine a system in which people like Andreas Lubitz don’t need to see a psychological or other setback as the end of their world.
What if he could have confided in his bosses without fear? What if Lufthansa policy was to stand by him through his treatment, guaranteeing him a respectable job at equivalent salary – for as long as it took for him to get better? And if he couldn’t recover, what if he knew that his country’s government would provide for him financially and otherwise? Finally, what if no one cared what he did for a living, and it was just as prestigious and remunerative to work as a file clerk as to fly a plane?
I’m not sure, but I bet 150 people would be alive today.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM