As the Buddha said 2500 years ago... we're all out of our fucking minds. (Albert Ellis)
There have been a few occasions over the last year where people suffering mental illnesses have been the subject of much discussion.
In March 2015 there was the tragic loss of Germanwings flight 9525. It was discovered that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had been receiving treatment for mental illness. Under strict privacy laws, nobody at his employer, the airline, had received any information about the diagnosis or treatment.
During the summer, the private mailing list for a large online community discussed the mental illness of a contributor to a project. Various people expressed opinions that appeared to be generalizations about all those with mental illness. Some people hinted the illness was a lie to avoid work while others speculated about options for treatment. Nobody involved mentioned having any medical expertise.
It is ironic that on the one hand, we have the dramatic example of an aircraft crashing at the hands of somebody who is declared unfit to work but working anyway and on the other hand when somebody else couldn't do something, the diagnosis is being disputed by people who find it inconvenient or don't understand it.
More recently, there has been openly public discussion about whether another developer may have had mental illness. Once again, there doesn't appear to be any evidence from people with any medical expertise or documentation whatsoever. Some of the comments appear to be in the context of a grudge or justifying some other opinion.
What's worse, some comments appear to suggest that mental illness can be blamed for anything else that goes wrong in somebody's life. If somebody is shot and bleeds to death, do you say low blood pressure killed him or do you just say he was shot? Likewise, if somebody is subject to some kind of bullying and abused, does this have no interaction with mental illness? In fact, Google reveals an enormous number of papers from experts in this field suggesting that mental illness can arise or be exacerbated by bad experiences. Although it may not have been clear at that point in time, when we look back at Alan Turing's death today, suicide was not a valid verdict and persecution was a factor.
Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem in the UK each year. In the USA it is 26% of the adult population, each year. These may be long term conditions or they may be short term conditions. They may arise spontaneously or they may be arising from some kind of trauma, abuse or harassment in the home, workplace or some other context.
For large online communities, these statistics imply it is inevitable that some participants will be suffering from mental illness and others will have spouses, parents or children suffering from such conditions. These people will be acutely aware of the comments being made publicly about other people in the community. Social interaction also relates to the experience of mental illness, people who are supported by their community and society are more likely to recover while those who feel they are not understood or discriminated against may feel more isolated, compounding their condition.
As a developer, I wouldn't really like the idea of doctors meddling with my code, so why is it that some people in the IT and business community are so happy to meddle around in the domain of doctors, giving such strong opinions about something they have no expertise in?
Despite the tragic loss of life in Germanwings 9525, observing some of these other discussions that have taken place reminds me why Germany and some other countries do have such strict privacy laws for people who seek medical treatment.