Mad, sad or bad: The psychology of murder-suicide

26th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

Questions to University College London psychology professor Lorraine Sherr on the likely state of mind of the Germanwings co-pilot suspected of deliberately downing a plane with 150 people on board.

Q: What kind of psychological state could cause a person to commit mass murder-suicide?

Sherr: I suppose we would say mad, sad or bad.

If somebody's mad, they completely lose contact with reality, and they kill themselves... not being of sound mind at all. Then they won't really be thinking of the consequences of the other people on the plane, they would just have lost touch with reality.

If somebody is bad: that's where we put the suicide bomber or somebody wreaking an act of vengeance or anger, or desecrates life in their cause.

And somebody who's sad is so depressed or so out of it that don't think beyond it... so obsessed with his own demise or own sadness or own mental health state that he just couldn't think about it (other people).

Q: Is this likely to have been a planned act?

Sherr: Not all suicides are planned. When somebody has an idea, they run through a variety of options in their heads and sometimes one suddenly takes off. It could be an element of spur of the moment, but the generalised plan might well have ruminated for a while.

All sorts of pathways to snapping point are possible. Some people build up anger, resentment, unhappiness and try many things until they build to a crescendo.

The other thing is that some people just suddenly snap... a very sudden thing where you cross over the line.

It is very hard to know. We have very little precedent and of course we have no way of talking to this person. We can only can do autopsy-type of intervention, speaking to the people who talked to him last to get some sort of idea.

Q: Are the plane passengers likely to have been the intended targets of the act?

Sherr: Or... he didn't think about them at all, and it was a random act. The only thing of which we can be certain is that probably the person was not being rational, was so caught up in what they were doing that they couldn't think straight.

© 2015 AFP

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