Marty: On Bedell, sometimes our brains fail us

Marty Richman

First, I want to wish the two police officers wounded by John
Patrick Bedell at the Pentagon last Thursday a full and speedy
recovery and thank them for their service and courage
– I’m sure they prevented much worse. I also want to express
condolences to the Bedell family whose members are grieving for the
loss of a loved one. As they said in their public statement, they
will probably never know why he made that terrible decision. They
said they believed Patrick’s action w
as caused by illness. Obviously, they refer to mental
illness.
First, I want to wish the two police officers wounded by John Patrick Bedell at the Pentagon last Thursday a full and speedy recovery and thank them for their service and courage – I’m sure they prevented much worse. I also want to express condolences to the Bedell family whose members are grieving for the loss of a loved one. As they said in their public statement, they will probably never know why he made that terrible decision. They said they believed Patrick’s action was caused by illness. Obviously, they refer to mental illness.

If you live long enough you will, eventually, encounter people with various forms and degrees of mental illness. The types and causes of mental illness cover a dizzying array of everything from anxiety to schizophrenia, and the accompanying list of known or suspected causes are equally numerous. Trying to determine if someone is mentally ill can be challenging for an inexperienced person and it’s not always easy for professionals, according to literature.

The human brain is unbelievably complex. According to a study cited in Wikipedia, “the human brain has been estimated to contain 50 to 100 billion neurons, of which about 10 billion are cortical pyramidal cells. These cells pass signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections.” 

The electro-chemical reaction of the brain and central nervous system runs both the high-level and sensory functions of our bodies. Some of the functions controlled by, or in, the brain and its stem include behavior, emotion, intellect, reflection, judgment, inhibition, libido, and fear, the sense of identity, moods and motivation. There are many more, but just imagine if only a few of these essential functions were operating improperly.

Humans often refer to their heart; the term heart that become synonymous with the innermost or central part of anything, but a human’s real center – soul, if you prefer – is not their heart. It is their brain. Our brains are who we are and when our brains are not working properly, we become someone else. Physical, chemical and electrical changes in the brain can change our senses and how we think and act.

Reports are that Bedell had been diagnosed as bipolar and before the tragic event, his family already had been concerned for his safety and the safety of others and took action to notify the authorities, find him and help him, but to no avail.

In his blog, Threat Management, in Psychology Today, David F. Swink points out that most people don’t just “snap” but “move down a path toward violence.” He also notes that, “mental illness alone does not increase the risk of violence, but when mental illness is combined with other risk factors such as substance abuse, (as in the case of Bedell, who self-medicated with marijuana) it does increase the risk of violence.”

Swink stresses the importance of getting help, while recognizing the difficulty of doing so: “As parents, teachers, friends, family, co-workers, and law enforcers,” he says, “we should learn how to recognize those behavioral warning signs and communicate our concerns to people who might be able to help. Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult to get help for someone with mental illness that doesn’t accept the help, as was the case with Bedell.”

We all want to believe that “we” control our brains, but that cannot be because our brains are “us” and, therefore, they are in control. Sometimes, tragically, and like every other organ, they fail, and the system fails and all attempts to help fail and the results can be truly terrible when that happens.

There, but for the grace of God, go all of us.  

Marty Richman is a Hollister resident.

Related stories:

Media puts spotlight on Hollister

SBHS: Shooter attended school but left before graduating

Family was trying to get help for Pentagon shooting suspect

Childhood peer recalls gatherings with suspect and family

Bedell’s family releases statement: ‘We may never know why he made this terrible decision’

Apparent online presence shows suspect’s distrust of government

Updated: Suspected Pentagon gunman was from Hollister; recently attended SJ State

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