The recent incident where John Patrick Bedell, walked up to a guard station at the entrance to the Pentagon, and opened fire with a 9 mm handgun on the guards, underscores what I've been talking about on this blog concerning the mentally ill.
For more particulars concerning the actual event, you can read the news reports at this Wall Street Journal article or this Associated Press story at Yahoo news.
Because, as I've shared on this blog previously, I have a sister who is a paranoid schizophrenic, and because I ran secured psychiatric facilities for 9 years, issues concerning mentally ill individuals capture my heart. I love that in America we are each entitled to live how we choose, even if we are bizarre - but this same wonderful truth causes heap loads of problems when it comes to mentally ill individuals. The problem in California, in a nutshell, is this:
We each have a right to the freedom to live as we choose. So if a mentally ill individual chooses to not receive treatment, not take medication, not participate in a healthy lifestyle including dental/medical/dietary/hygienic living conditions - the individual is entitled to make these choices and no one can do anything about it. The only time an individual can be detained against his freewill to receive psychiatric treatment is if he is 5150'd to the acute hospital for mandatory 72 hour observation. The guidelines for 5150'ing an individual are very strict, and a person can only have this happen if she shows herself to be an imminent danger to herself or others. It is very difficult for an individual to qualify to be an imminent danger. At the end of a 72 hour observation, many if not most, mentally ill individuals choose not to continue receiving psychiatric treatment. To be detained past 72 hours against one's will, the person has to be declared mentally incompetent and be put onto conservatorship. Then the conservator will be the one to make specifically outlined types of decisions for the individual (such as mandatory placement into a psychiatric setting to receive treatment).
I honestly do not know how to fix this problem. I rejoice in the fact that as Americans we can live as we choose. When I've shared about problems with my paranoid schizophrenic sister, I always have good, kind, thoughtful people suggest that I make her receive psychiatric assistance. But this is not possible. I've attended several conservatorship hearings and watched many very sick people not be put onto conservatorship.
This recent situation with John Patrick Bedell is a classic example.
Bedell was diagnosed as bipolar, or manic depressive, and had been in and out of treatment programs for years. It is reported that Bedell tried to self-medicate with marijuana, inadvertently making his symptoms more pronounced. It is very typical for mentally ill individuals to self medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Bedell's parents had reported him missing on January 4, 2010. On January 3, Bedell had been stopped by a for speeding in Amarillo. It is reported that during that conversation with the Highway Patrol officer, Bedell told the officer that he was heading for the East Coast and the officer used Bedell's phone to call his mother, Kaye Bedell, because he seemed disheveled and out of sorts. Kaye Bedelle asked the officer to take him to a , but John Bedell refused. The patrolman let Bedell go with a warning. My guess is that the patrolman would have liked to have taken John Patrick to a mental health facility, but could not legally force Bedell into treatment.
The only known link between Bedell and the Pentagon was that in 2004 Bedell had vied for funding for his research. The Associated Press story at Yahoo news said that:
"Bedell also proposed in 2004 that the Pentagon fund his own research on smart weapons. The 28-page proposal outlined his idea for DNA nanotechnology research that might "provide significant new capabilities for the Department of Defense and the individual warfighter."
The Wall Street Journal article explains that:
"In postings on Wikipedia and other Web sites, Mr. Bedell came across as an educated and technologically proficient man with strong libertarian leanings, an anger toward the U.S. government, and a belief that far-reaching conspiracies were behind events as big as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and as small as the disputed 1991 death of a Marine colonel."
My take on this entire situation is that we have a mentally ill man who, due to his illness, misperceived the world around him. Based on his world view, this same man took actions, that most likely seemed reasonable to him. Those same actions ultimately led to the man's death and the injury of two guards at the Pentagon.
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