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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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The Pentagon Tragedy: Mental Illness, Violence and What Reporters Should Ask

March 6, 2010

Arlington, Va.-- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has issued the following statement on the death of John Patrick Bedell from his attack on Pentagon guards on March 4, 2010:

"News reports indicate that Patrick Bedell struggled for some time with a severe mental illness," said NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick.

"NAMI's members include individuals and families affected by mental illness. We know first-hand the difficulties in getting people help when they need it. The Bedell family's statement following the death of their son could have been made by any American family:

To us, he was a beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew and cousin. We may never know why he made this terrible decision. One thing is clear though: his actions were caused by an illness and not a defective character.

NAMI calls on news media to look carefully and in depth at the facts of the tragedy. Look beyond sensationalism and provide balanced perspective and education on mental illness, treatment and recovery.

The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that the likelihood of violence by people with mental illness is low: 'The overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.'  

In fact, people with mental illness are 10 times more likely than other Americans to be victims of violence.

Because acts of violence are exceptional, they are a sign that something has gone terribly wrong. Issues that reporters and others should pursue in any case of this nature include:

  • Was there an actual diagnosis? What were the symptoms?
  • What was the full medical history?
  • Did the person or family seek treatment, but get delayed or denied? When?
  • Where seen? By whom? How often?
  • Was follow-up care provided?
  • Was treatment coordinated among different professionals?
  • What kind of social and peer support was the person getting?
  • Taking medication? Why or why not?
  • Were side-effects a factor in discontinuation? Did doctor recently change diagnosis or prescriptions?
  • Was there substance abuse?
  • What events may have triggered the psychiatric crisis?
  • Did family members receive education and support?
  • Were there past interactions with police or  courts?
  • Was court-ordered treatment ever utilized? Why or why not?

Early news reports have indicated that many of these questions are relevant in understanding what happened in this case.

We must use it as an opportunity to fix any holes that exist in the mental health care system--and at a time when massive state budget cuts are destroying mental health services, to protect and strengthen those that do exist.

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