Why it’s a problem: Despite some good reporting in this article, and despite aiming to destigmatize mental health in the airline industry, the author of this Washington Post article ends up further stigmatizing people with mental health issues, while also revealing how mental health as a framework generally works for white people, but against BIPOC and other marginalized people. The most problematic passage is this, in which the author references recent incidents that allegedly indicate the industry’s “culture of secrecy and evasion” around mental health:

During the same month as the Horizon flight, a grand jury in Utah indicted a former Delta pilot who threatened his co-pilot with a firearm last year. And this summer, a United Airlines pilot attacked a parking gate at Denver International Airport with an ax, causing $700 in damage, according to airport authorities.

However, the two cases that the author cites in that paragraph have nothing to do with mental health — at least there is no evidence of that offered in the linked articles — unless one applies the twisted logic that anyone who behaves badly must be mentally ill (as opposed to abusing their male privilege and sense of entitlement). Whether anger is a mental health issue per se is open for debate, but when President Biden regularly yells and lashes out at his staff to the point that they refuse to be alone in a room with him, it does seems hypocritical that the media aren’t alleging any mental health issues there.

If we want to destigmatize mental health, we need to stop reflexively calling all shitty behavior a sign of mental illness. It’s wonderful that the airline industry is starting to offer rehabilitation instead of taking strictly punitive actions against pilots who act out on the job, but considering that 90% of US pilots are white males, it’s not surprising that the airline industry invokes mental health to defend their bad-behaving pilots. And again, consider how we actually do treat people with mental illness, especially unhoused people with mental illness, and especially Black people with mental illness, and it becomes clearer why calling all “bad behavior” a sign of mental illness leads to kid gloves treatment for some, and criminalization and punishment for others.

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