Media Fails to Address American Airlines Flight Attendant’s Mental Health

An American Airlines flight attendant had a severe manic episode that unfortunately played out on a plane while she was at work. The plane was still sitting on the tarmac.

“She told me she was bipolar,” said Brad LeClear, one of the passengers who helped restrain the woman, according to ABC News.

Passengers recorded the incident on their smartphones and instantly uploaded the footage on YouTube. The video has subsequently been edited with sound affects from The Exorcist. The buzz on Twitter described her as “wacked” “demonic” and “possessed.”

Seriously people, put down the holy water and crucifixes, mental illness is real. Bipolar and schizophrenia are two of the most misunderstood. Unfortunately, this is a good example of why there is a lot of stigma and shame associated with mental illness.

The media reports did not help. They sensationalized the story by calling it a “rant” “scary outburst” “bizarre” “frightening scene” and reported little on the mental health of the patient.

Newsrooms should know how to  categorize a story involving someone with a disability. Instead they only added to the jeers and hysteria by failing to address what viewers were really watching, a person experiencing a severe mental break.

Out of all the “crazy” talk about the incident I found this great response by Pamela Shier, a veteran flight attendant.

My dear colleagues,

As I watched the news coverage of AA Flt# 2332 I wanted to shout at the passengers recording the incident, “Haven’t you ever seen an acute psychiatric break before?”

And I realized that I may have an advantage, having over fourteen years working in trauma centers.
Let me just say that witnessing an emotional breakdown may be uncomfortable, unpleasant and even unnerving.

Parents may wish to explain to young children that the person is having a “tantrum” or “meltdown”.
For friends, family and flying partners it is a heartbreaking experience. But it is NOT “terror in the skies.” The best analogy I can offer is that it is akin to an acute attack of appendicitis.

The person may have been experiencing and ignoring some symptoms for a while but the pain is sudden and overwhelming. Stress-related? Perhaps. Caused by stress? Probably not.
Would the passengers have laughed as the flight attendant was carried off the aircraft, crying out in agony?
Again, perhaps.

The only “bad letter” I ever received was from a passenger to whom I may have been less than completely deferential when she complained angrily about her delay during a a life-threatening situation aboard.
Since it contained no name, my JFK supervisor happily filed the complaint circularly.

So to the passenger who told CNN that she was afraid the plane was going to crash, I suggest you take a deep breath and look out the window. You were still on the tarmac.  – Pamela Cottrell Shier


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