Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Pentagon Shooting...And Healthcare...

By now you've heard the name John Patrick Bedell, the now-dead man accused of shooting two Pentagon Police Officers (who knew the Pentagon had it's own police force, and why?). who was himself killed in the ensuing gunfight.

Naturally, the Homeland Security morons were right there to assure us all that an attack at the Pentagon wasn't related to terrorism, that there was no terrorist plot, and that these were the actions of a lone psychotic.

These were the same words they used to describe the Fort Hood Shooter and the Pantybomber, you'll recall.

Only this time, Homeland Security just happened to get lucky (hey, it happens from time to time), and someone actually came along who managed to fit their pre-generated profile of the White Male Weekend-Warrior Terrorist. But, this post isn't about bashing Homeland Security any more than it needs to be. It's about the shooter.

It turns out that John Patrick Bedell was bi-polar. Mentally ill. It also turns out that his doctor and his parents were quite concerned for his safety, and worried about what he might do. They informed the authorities that their son was out there, somewhere, and possibly dangerous. He was known to have a drug problem (He was smoking pot. Yeah, that always works -- anti-depressants and marijuana. Just what you need to defeat depression; another depressant) on top of his disorder, and was known to law enforcement in his hometown.

Well, now we know what he was capable of doing. How many people have to say "this guy is fucked up..." before someone decides that the current regime of outpatient treatment just isn't enough for some people?

In hindsight, people are now taking his internet pronouncements seriously. They didn't when he was alive, because that would have meant recognizing a problem, and they might have been expected to do something about it. Let's face it; whatever he wrote on the Web was probably the same stuff he repeated, ad nauseum, to his family, doctor and whatever friends he had, it was probably all he ever talked about. No one took him seriously then, and they probably dismissed him as some harmless kook spouting conspiracy theories on everything from 9/11 to the manipulation of the stock market.

Apparently, Mr. Bedell had been under a regime of "treatment" for a very long time. I put that term in quotes for a reason; most psycho-therapeutic treatment nowadays consists of "take this pill..." and endless $400-45-minute-hours of "tell me what your mother was like..." in which the patient gets to ramble on about whatever is on their mind that day, and the therapist simply nods her head and asks often-irrelevant questions. This form of therapy takes it as axiomatic that the patient has his own answers, and that if you let them talk enough, they'll eventually stumble upon them.

For some people, usually the smart ones, this works. They eventually come to some understanding of what their problems are, and they figure out some strategy for straightening their lives out. Then there is the especially dense crowd, for whom all the talking does nothing, and they require direct instructions or advice from a therapist or psychiatrist...and then they don't get it (that violates the underlying premise of talk therapy, you see!), and wind up in therapy forever.

For other people, this routine simply never works. For people like John Patrick Bedell, the combination of feel-good-self-esteem-and-talk-based psychiatry and prescription drugs often doesn't begin to examine, or even identify, the underlying causes of their particular issues. They don't get much benefit from therapy, and the drugs usually just serve the purpose of taking the edge off just enough...something that keeps these folks from slitting their wrists or from driving a semi-trailer into an Arby's, or something. They are either unable to describe what they're feeling, or worse, they can easily recognize what's wrong with them, but they have no ambition whatsoever to change it. The worst of all are the people who consider their "issues" to be virtues: they are in possession of some great truth, or hold some greater distinction which causes the rest of the world to have a problem with them; not the other way around.

Bedell's internet ranting about a certain Colonel James Sabow -- considered a key player in many 9/11 Troofer conspiracy theories -- probably explains why he tried to shoot his way into the Pentagon; he was probably convinced that it was the only way to get at some version of truth. Maybe, he even sought fame and fortune in the attempt -- I don't know. But, I can promise you, that people who think this way don't just wake up one morning and decide to do the deed; it's usually all they can talk about for weeks, maybe months, before they actually do it. The obsession literally consumes their lives. Where was his doctor? Where was law enforcement after his parents reported him? This is a critical stage in the story, and in his treatment.

A doctor who knows that his bi-polar patient -- probably with some form of severe obsessive compulsive disorder on top of it -- is smoking marijuana while under the influence of anti-depressants, and who is probably telling anyone who will listen about his insane conspiracy theories and determination to get to the bottom of it all, if that doctor does not turn his patient into the police for his illegal activity, or better yet, have his patient committed for his own safety, he or she is derelict in his duty as a physician.

Who knows just how long this "physician" was "treating" Mr. Bedell. It perhaps it was too good a cash cow to endanger with something helping his patient get better, or getting him off the street.

John Bedell went to the Pentagon to do one, or probably both, of the following:

a. find out the 'truth' about 9/11, and

b. failing that, becoming a martyr to the 'cause' (9/11 Troofer-ism), while simultaneously ending his own, internal conflict.

Then again, maybe there was no help for John Bedell if he had gone that far. The sad fact is that for many folks with mental illnesses there never is any, despite the highest caliber of care and professionalism from his physicians. So, what does a crackpot shooting up the Pentagon have to do with healthcare?

Having been treated for a mental illness or two in my lifetime, I'm far more likely to sympathize with John Bedell. I don't condone anything he's done; Shooting at police officers, or attempting "suicide by cop" is a stupid thing to do. It solves nothing, and is far more likely to inflict pain on innocents, needlessly. That's selfish. I also don't go for the "Rambo" mentality that believes you can shoot your way into a heavily-defended objective just because you saw Bruce Willis or Sly do it a few times; if you think this way, you're delusional and a danger to yourself and everyone else.

The question I'm asking is this: at what point -- after how many John Patrick Bedells and Joseph Andrew Stacks (the I.R.S. Kamikaze in Texas) -- do we begin to realize that there are legions of people out there who are suffering from largely-controllable mental disorders that are ticking time bombs? The care they get is often inadequate, spends too much time on pap sociology and political correctness, instead of on real medicine, and it isn't always geared towards doing much more than putting money in someone else's pocket.

Since everyones all up in the air about Health Care Reform, how about we start somewhere where a difference can be made almost immediately? Most people suffering from depression, bi-polar disorders, stress-and-trauma-related disorders can be treated effectively, and cheaply, and way before they reach a critical mass to play hide-and-seek-with-bullets with a bunch of cops. They also make up a large percentage of people who are typically treated for a range of associated physical problems; heart problems, overeating, alcoholism, drug abuse, child-and-spousal abuse, and those just start the list off. Fix those problems by changing the way the medical profession, and society, views the mentally ill, and you'd go a long way towards fixing many of the underlying issues of our "Health Care Crisis".

Many fewer people would be shot at, or have small airplanes launched at them if you did.

Just don't let Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid do it.

The reason we probably won't overhaul the mental health care business is because it isn't "sexy". It's not a cause du jour like AIDS, Childhood Obesity and Breast Cancer. You'll never see Scarlett Johansson or something wear a ribbon for Mental Health on a red carpet. But, it probably does just as much, if not more, damage to people and society than all three of those other maladies put together. Until someone decides that mental health issues warrant as much ink, publicity and attention than these other things, we'll see a steady stream of John Patrick Bedells on the evening news.

Shame on us.

1 comment:

Sabra said...

Excellent, Matthew. Very, very well stated with just the "proper" amount of snark for such a serious topic.

The health care problem with mental illness started some decades ago when some genius decided that so many people with psychological problems or issues were really quite capable of taking care of themselves. So, the hospitals that were caring for some - many - of these troubled soles - were forced to release them. I know Los Angeles had a big problem with this, and I know that I was living in Concord, N.H., when the state determined that due to budgetary constraints the State Hospital had to be closed. All but for ONE building that housed troubled teenagers. That remained open until a new and improved facility - on the same grounds - could be built.

It all comes down to money. And instead of fixing the problems from the top down - they get fixed from the bottom up. Lay off all the orderly's but keep the administrative echelon. There. Money problem solved.