Opinion: Defining (and disregarding) ‘crazy’ for the mentally unstable



Melissa Schwachenwald

Melissa Schwachenwald

Melissa Schwachenwald is a senior fine arts major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Crazy captains…paranoid passengers…flight attendant freak outs…pilots losing it”: These were the opening statements in the ABC 20/20 “Just Plane Crazy” episode that aired on Friday, April 13.

I learned about this ABC special while I was looking at The Cleveland International Film “Of Two Minds” page on Facebook. Last week I wrote about the film, which depicted a realistic and unbiased view of Bipolar disorder.

After watching the film, I was impressed with the positive and factual portrayal of the disorder. The portions of the movie about depression and suicide were emotional yet the cast members presented hope and had a comedic approach about their struggles.

Having a family member and close friends with Bipolar disorder, I’ve seen their extreme highs and lows, delusions, hallucinations without medication and natural behavior while medicated.

They have chemical imbalances in their brains that are triggered by stress and difficult situations, yet they are fully functioning, good hearted people that have jobs, go to school and communicate like any other person.

Their mental illness does not define their characters and they are not violent nor would they intentionally hurt anyone.

Our society has created a public misunderstanding of mental illness; negative and ignorant representations have been seen throughout our media. The 20/20 “Just Plane Crazy” episode is a prime example.

The host’s tone during the show was equivalent to Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight where the excitement in their voices are apparent while spilling the latest celebrity gossip.

“Scary Pilot Clayton Osbon went crazy on a flight from New York to Los Angeles” began the clip of the captain yelling, “I’m so distraught! We got Israel, we got Iraq! We’re gonna get doomed!”

Granted, while on a plane at 27,000 feet in the air, I would be scared if I were in the situation of those passengers. Clearly, Osbon was experiencing a mental breakdown, which is a politically correct term rather than “he went crazy.”

Air crew workers are underpaid, overworked and highly stressed; Captain Osbon was experiencing a psychotic episode most likely due to these issues if not others.

On the show, 20/20 interviewed a corrections officer who was onboard; he stated how he put the captain in a chokehold, which led to Osbon passing out.

He spoke about passengers thanking him because they were worried they were never going to see their children again. He also mentioned that he has nightmares about the scenario every night.

Following his interview, the host said Captain Osbon was sent to a Federal Medical Center for psychiatric help and is facing a jail sentence up to 20 years for interfering a flight.

Captain Osbon did not have a weapon and was not threatening or attempting to hurt anyone. He was experiencing an intense panic attack; his anxiety led to psychosis that impaired his thoughts, emotions and contact with external reality.

This man goes through a terrible occurrence and our media portrays it as: “crazy” guy causes fear on plane but he was knocked out and now he’s in the loony bin and facing criminal charges for scaring us so don’t worry, we caged the animal!

ABC was unprofessional and disrespectful because they demonstrated complete ignorance of a medical condition, lack of knowledge and compassion about mental illnesses, and used demeaning comments throughout the episode.

Words are offensive in certain contexts; the mentally ill community typically does not prefer to be described as “crazy” because it may be interpreted as “out of control and hostile.”

If you come into contact with a Bipolar or Schizophrenic person you are not going to be murdered, they’re not going to “snap” or change their personalities; they are human beings that can function in our society!

Most mentally ill people need medication to balance their moods, prevent anxiety and keep a clear mind; however, some cases are controllable without medication. Illnesses of the mind are chronic; just like cancer and diabetes, they have to be managed in a healthy manner.

If a cancer patient who recently lost his/her hair is in a crowd of people or a person with diabetes takes his/her insulin shot in public, there isn’t gawking or strange reactions because most understand the diseases and sympathy is usually an immediate response.

On the contrary, if someone is “not acting normal” or however people that don’t understand weird behavior would define it, there tends to be a negative response that depicts how the general public is not educated about mental disorders.