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The Germanwings tragedy: challenges of mental illness in the workplace

When a young airline pilot with a history of depression deliberately crashed a Germanwings plane in the French Alps, it stunned the world. It also put the spotlight on a dilemma that has confounded employers and mental health professionals for years: how to balance the employer's obligation to keep the workplace safe with the worker's right to medical privacy and disability accommodation.

In spite of education efforts and increased awareness, mental health issues are still treated differently than physical disabilities. Yet, mental illness results in more lost days than back pain and arthritis. Some of the issues facing employers include: persistent workplace stigma, concern for violating workers' rights, limited use of screening, poor use of fitness for duty exams,and return to work reliance on primary care physicians.

Workplace issues

What can be done?

To support employees with mental illnesses, the National Mental Health Association and the National Council for Behavioral Health recommend the following actions:

Other steps include: