Why explaining Amok only with Depression is wrong

After the Germanwings crash last year the events of Munich could once again affect people suffering from depression. Because many will take the disease as the actual reason for the massacre.

Munich shooter on a roof, as he has an argument with a resident

The very first thing that came into my mind when I heard about the Munich shooting on Friday was “please don´t be a Muslim, please don’t.”, for this would open up all doors for Germany´s right wing bastards to vomit all their verbal diarrhoea and hatred out into the world. As I followed the news coverage all night, I rotationally felt disgusted by speculations and stupid reporter´s questions, thankful and deeply impressed by the professional public communication policy of the Bavarian police and just heartbroken and devastated by the fact that most people that died that evening not even celebrated their 20th birthday yet.

But now that it seems to be clear, that there was no connection to ISIS whatsoever and the search for a reason to explain why an 18 year old kid would randomly kill other kids even younger than him, public debate came up with something just as dangerous as connecting someone´s cultural origin with terrorism: When they found out the shooter suffered from depressions, people would go mad all over again asking: “Are deppressed people potentially dangerous?”

Of course asking for the offenders´ motive is one of the most imortant things in the investigation process, so raising the question wether his condition was in any kind linked to what he did, is legitimate, I don´t doubt that. But since there is still a lot of stigmatism in society about depressive people it is very important to rely on a sensitive news coverage. But some papers´ headlines the following days read exactly the way i was affraid of: Berliner Kurier for example had  “Not IS, differently ill” in their sunday´s issue. Earlier today Schweriner Volkszeitung put up a video on their page titled “Amok in the head: shooter in Munic was depressive” (to be found here). Now “Amok in the head” is of course a book, but the way it is used in the headline by directly contrasting it with the word “depressive” suggests we know the reason now, why the 18 year old ran amok (the video comment itself is legit though). Statements like these carelessly put a disease, that millions of people suffer from, right next to insanity and danger.

Berliner Kurier, 24.07.2016: “The gunman from Munic // Not IS, differently ill!”

Stigma and Alienation

Especially the yellow press loves to dig in someones past and present mental health issues as the reason this someone fucked up big time. All these headlines in the past days reminded me of the news coverage about the Germanwings pilot who intentionally crashed a plain in the french alps killing 150 including himself last year. The common opinion seemed to be: was depressed, yeah that explains it.

Daily Mail, 27.03.2015

The problem with a coverage like that is, it fuels clichés and stigma, that is already there in society, alienating the people concerned, because they are affraid to open themselves up to anybody.

One might think there is a whole lot more of awareness about depression than, say, 10, 20 years ago. And it´s partly true, there are campaigns to draw more attention to it, there are lots of people sharing their experiences in social media (#notjustsad, project semicolon) and sometimes some journalists are even engaged in publishing something about it in mainstream media every once in a while. Yet, whenever people talk about depressions, who obviously not have any personal experiences with it, you hear the same chlichés all over, that make the people concerned think twice whether they better should shut up about it in fear of beeing somehow excluded or stigmatised.

Having some minor issues my own I was always interested in mental illnesses. A while ago I spent some time with someone suffering from depressions. Not only was he very open about it, he would also allow me to write down what he told me, because to him, increasing awareness about the condition is very important.

M. is a mid 20s student in Berlin. The  creative and more sensitive type. He´s a very sympathetic and funny guy, liked and loved by many as he helps and listens to everyone, always joking around, talking shit, sarcastic, ironic, not yet zynical. In short, he´s the guy you´d never think of suffering from depressive episodes since he was 17.

And ever since he hears things like “well, I guess you´re just having a hard period right now. We all have been there. Don´t worry, it´ll pass”, while others speak of it as some kind of abnormity, resulting into statements about how they could never ever be friends with someone like this, not to speak of actually be with someone like this. These perceptions might be as bad as wrong, but to M. they are not too harmful, because they are quite easy to come by with full openness. He´d just tell people how it really is. And he assures me, that most people he was opening himself up to reacted beautifully while – in many cases – hearing for the first time what it is like to have depressions.

Mystified perceptions

“What you don´t want to have is people mystifying it”, he says. “People who would romanticise something they don´t understand.” Because often people only see the beauty of decadence and hedonism that sometimes comes with it. Depressions are often connected to sensitive, creative people, authors, artists and musicians. And watching how they act in public, people think to glimpse the mystified version of the enviable world they think these people live in with all the drugs, with all the sex, hedonism and ecstasy. It can seem as something very desirable. It´s no wonder kids are idolising icons like Kurt Cobain and even pursue to be like him.

What these people don´t see is, that there might be a reason for all this decadence and hedonism which oftentimes is actually just pure escapism from a reality they are not able to stand anymore. M. recalled a conversation he once had with a friend about the topic that strongly shocked him. Since she was a very sensitive person she asked him what was wrong, realizing he was not feeling very well back then. And so he told her. After exchanging some standard phrases you would say in a situation like this she said the following:

“Oh, it must be so hard for you to deal with this, in a way I admire you, because I don´t know if I ever was strong enough for that. You know, sometimes i wish I had problems like this”

Him, shocked: “What?!”

“Yeah, you know, my life is so boring somehow, I feel so ordinary and when I listen to you, all this going out, your experiences with drugs, the hedonism and all these amazing stories you told me in all this time we know each other, I think, how could I just let myself go as well, try things, give myself to the night and see what happens…”

In the first moment he was just speechless. Then he exploded:

“Don´t ever say anything like this, you should be very very happy, that you don´t understand this world. That you stay home in your ordinary flat, having your ordinary friends you do ordinary things with like go to the movies or have dinner together. That you´re not driven to ecstasy, to go out every chance you get, sniffing anything you get, fucking everyone who lets you and dancing the whole night through until you finally collapse and sleep the whole weekend. I know it sounds intriguing, but in the end there is a reason why people go down there. Be happy, that you don´t know anything! You don´t want to be down here with us in the pits!”

M. never felt any kind of special for having this problem. As I said, most people he entrusted himself to reacted beautifully. But after hearing these naive words coming from a naive girl that meant no harm, for wich he can´t even blame her, he felt like a freak for the very first time in his life. As something you would look at in a zoo, beeing stunned and fascinated, something exotic. But guess what, nothing is exotic here.

He then explained to her, what it´s really like to have a depressive episode: That you are not depressed the whole time and actually function like a normal person for most of the time with normal feelings like sadness, happiness, confusion, joy, excitement etc. But when depression knocks at your door every once in a while and finally takes you with it, it is like someone punches you in the face right in the moment you wake up in the morning and keeps doing so for the whole day, until this someone gets tired in the evening, what makes you feel slightly better, which makes you not want to go to bed, beacuse you want to savour these precious moments in wich you don´t feel completely shit, but in doing so you develop sleep disorder and everything gets worse.

And now transfer these face punches to your mind, your feelings. You are unable to feel the slightest bit of joy. If something good happens, like having a good time with your friends, you perfectly realise that normally this would make you happy. But instead you just feel down and miserable. And soon your memories of the good times you had before your depressive episode will be in shadows as well. It rips you from every nice memory you have even while experiencing them. There´s just no joy left. There are no reasons for it, only triggers.

Suicide thoughts vs. beeing suicidal

Let´s say you have an argument with a friend and you feel bad for it. You settle the argument and think everything should be fine now. But instead another problem like you think you´re shit at your job suddenly pops up and you just continue to feel shit. And this goes on and on and on and first you try to fight every single of these problems hoping to be able to solve them and everything gets back to normal. But this just never happens and one day you just resign because you don´t have any energy left. That´s the moment when you might start thinking about different ways of how you could kill yourself. Not that you´d ever do it, but it´s a comforting thought you could, as a last resort. This is not yet beeing suicidal. That symptom´s called having suicide thoughts, which means you suffer from medium heavy depression. M. couldn´t tell me anything about actually beeing suicidal, since he´s never been there.

“In fact, almost every one has some kind of issues, we´re all burnt children in a way, we´re all freaks. As for me, in my social environment there´s practically no one who hasn´t issues. There´s someone who used to puke the shit out of himself every time he ate something, there´s someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder, an alcoholic, someone with borderline disorder and finally the one who once jumped out of a window in order to end all this shit.”

As you can see depression has nothing to do with beeing sad for a specific reason or with some twisted perceptions of someone just beeing a melancolic type embracing the dark. Nor it it something that would drive you to get a gun and shoot people.

No matter wether it´s daddy issues, mommy issues, beeing mistreated in childhood, rape and whatsoever, everyone is damaged. There´s just nothing special about it. And in case you´re one of the very few lucky ones in the world without any problems, please don´t treat us like vampires and be affraid of us or, above all, don´t be fascinated by us for we are neither dangerous nor special. We´re no children of the night. We´re just a bunch of nice and likeable freaks like you.



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