Sunday, 29 March 2015

No time to say goodbye, taking time to say goodbye and au revoir Steve

We will never know what was in the mind of Andreas Lubitiz last week when he set the flight monitoring system of the Airbus A320 he was flying, to descent mode. The plane was travelling at 435 mph and some 8 minutes later it crashed into the mountains near Seyne-les-Alpes in the French Alps killing all 150 people on board. Initially there was much speculation about whether Lubitiz should have been flying as he had a past history of depression. The World Health Organisation estimate that globally, there are 350 million people living with depression (see here for more information). However, to date there is no evidence that the despair that often comes with depression was the cause here. 

Indeed, cases such as this, where one person wishing to end their life does so by taking the lives of others (in this case, complete strangers) at the same time is extremely rare. The evidence suggests that most murder-suicides happen in domestic situations and most often involve a man and his wife or partner. What led Lubitiz to commit this inexplicable and devastating act almost defies explanation. There are a multitude of possible factors that might be involved. A particular emotional state or a particular personality trait might provide the trigger for such extreme behaviour, but factors such a alcohol problems, drug misuse, relationship issues thwarted ambitions could all play a part.

I literally cannot imagine what the families of those who died in this tragedy must be going through. The loss of life in any circumstance is difficult to deal with and understand. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist was most famous for her work in describing what she called the 5 stages of emotional grief survivors of an intimate’s death experience: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  However, dealing with such a loss, and in the inexplicable   circumstances of the Airbus 320 crash must feel almost impossible.

Kübler-Ross most famous book On Death and Dying (1969) was inspired by her work with people who had a life shortening illness. Last week I was also inspired by the stories of Brian, Gerry, and John, three people living with prostate cancer. 1 in 8 men in the UK will receive this diagnosis. Cancer Research UK note that 10,837 men died from prostate cancer in 2012. This compares to 11,716 women (and men) who died of breast cancer, and the 5,981 men and women who committed suicide during the same period. What made these 3 men's stories inspiring for me was the way they captured their thoughts and feelings in photographs to tell of their experiences. Have a look here. 

And it was Gorgeous Steve who told of his experiences at the end of last week. Friday was his last day at the School. My cool, calm and 100% bullet proof colleague, Steve was retiring. We gathered together to celebrate his contribution to the School, the University, the profession of social work and to the many people’s lives he had touched  during his career. When the Social Workers joined the School back in late 2010, it was Steve who led the way. He later became Director and steered the social work directorate through some very tricky times. 

I have very much enjoyed working with Steve, and all through time I have known him he has been his own man. Not someone you could hurry, he worked at his own pace, but always delivered. He cared for others, the profession of social work and was an excellent educationalist. I will miss his smile, his 'you are not going to like this' introduction to his solution based approach to problems, his knowledge, generosity and above all else his unconditional positive regard towards others. He helped me see the value in recognising the strengths rather than weaknesses in others. I wish you well Steve but I will miss your warmth and friendship - so maybe not goodbye but au revoir!