Should workplaces screen for depression?

The world is still reeling from the news that 150 people had died on Germanwings flight 9525. Speculations began shortly after the crash that the plane had deliberately been brought down, by the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz.

With this suspicion in mind, focus turned to Andreas’ private life and what dark goings-on could lead him to kill 150 innocent people. One of the first things that reporters were very quick to jump on was the suggestion that he had depression because, of course, having depression automatically means that you’re going to do terrible things.

Nevertheless, it was Andreas’ history of depression that was the focus of investigations.

IMAG0123The Daily Mail went for this delightful headline – “Suicide pilot had a long history of depression – why on earth was he allowed to fly?” whilst The Sun simply stated “Madman in Cockpit”.

I am not going to comment on Andreas or Flight 9525, I simply wish to use it to highlight how quickly people, influenced by the media, can give negative connotations to depression, a mental health illness which the sufferer has no control over. No one chooses to be depressed, and it certainly does not make you a bad person if you have depression.

It seemed that the discovery that the co-pilot had depression was the piece of information that everyone needed to enable them to blame him. Now, in light of this, BBC News has recently asked whether there should be screening for mental illness at work. My answer, and that of BBC News, would be an emphatic ‘no’.

Screening is something that the majority of us are familiar with, it being mostly used in testing for cervical cancer. Screening is fantastic because it allows you to assess for a disorder in an individual who does not know that they are ill and who has no symptoms.

One well-established principle in medical screening is that there is a ‘latent’ stage where the disorder is present but it is not apparent to the individual. Not only is there no recognised latent stage of depression, but the idea of ‘symptom free’ depression is difficult to entertain.

Even if mental illness screening were possible, I would feel great unease if it were done in the workplace. In ‘testing’ for mental illness there is the automatic sub-conscious connotation that mental illness is wrong. It is wrong and therefore your workplace must know about it.

For me, screening for mental illness would add further stigma to those suffering, particularly if screening is introduced off the back of the story of Andreas. It would most likely serve to discourage people from speaking of their mental health issues and this can only be counter-productive.

Say that an employee has such a screening and a mental illness is discovered, what then? Are they fired? Are they closely monitored because they have depression and therefore there is a chance that they may endanger someone?

It simply does not make sense, at a time where awareness for mental health issues ought to be raised and stigma reduced, to screen for mental illness.

We do not need to screen for mental illness. What we do need is to encourage sufferers to get the help that they need and to feel comfortable in doing so.


2 thoughts on “Should workplaces screen for depression?

  1. I think screening for mental health is a delicate subject, however I wouldn’t let a blind man fly a plane, would I let someone with severe depression fly a plane? I wouldn’t fly it myself through worry of what I might do. It’s difficult. I would hate to be segregated from other people just because I have depression, but maybe it’s necessary. I hate that I’m even writing this, but maybe I’m right…….maybe. I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tom,

      It’s always good to have these discussions and there is never going to be a correct answer. I see exactly what you’re saying. I was using the example more to highlight the fact that society still connects negatively to depression. People kill people, not depression. The case of Andreas Lubitz for me highlighted that we have not yet been able to make that distinction and I find that incredibly frightening.

      Of course there may be added risk if someone is having extreme suicidal thoughts and is in charge of a plane. But we cannot stop people with depression from working simply because they have depression.

      I understand when you say that you would worry about what you may do were you to fly a plane with severe depression. However, the point is that you should not have to have this worry. If depression were spoken about openly with no stigma or negative connotations attached, then you would probably feel more comfortable in seeking help.

      I hope that that makes sense! You’re right, it is confusing!


      Liked by 1 person

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