Mental Breakdown
State, county cuts devastate mentally ill

About this project

In Stanislaus County – like many counties across California -- a faltering local economy and deep budget cuts have severely reduced government’s ability to treat adults with mental illnesses. The result? A surge in the number of people with mental illness landing behind bars and in the county’s ERs. In the past six years, the numbers of mentally ill inmates in the Stanislaus County jail has increased nearly 50 percent, according to sheriff’s department data. Around the state, many of the most seriously mentally ill inmates now wait up to six months in jail before a state hospital bed opens up.


Hospital ERs see dramatic increase in mentally ill patients

Hospital emergency rooms in Stanislaus County are feeling the impacts from the statewide shortage of psychiatric beds and cuts to outpatient services. In the past five years, Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock has seen a dramatic increase in ER...

Mental health by the numbers

555: the average number of California state hospital beds per 100,000 residents in the 1950s. 14: the average number of California state hospital beds per 100,000 residents today.

Mental health care breaking down in Stanislaus

They appear here after every other door has been shut on them. Some are haunted by multiple voices or schizophrenia, others paralyzed by anxiety and depression. Inside this simply furnished room at the Stanislaus chapter office of the National...

Mental illness: Who to call for help in Stanislaus County

* Stanislaus County 24-Hour Crisis Intervention: (209) 558-4600 * Doctors Behavioral Health Center: (209) 557-6300 (can also walk in)
Joyce Plis

Help eludes father until son ends up behind bars

Joyce Plis, executive director of the Stanislaus County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, attends as many court hearings as she can, advocating on behalf of mentally ill individuals, helping family members navigate the legal system...

Mentally ill languish in jails due to cuts, lack of beds

The latest chapter of Kim Green’s recurring nightmare began last fall. In October, her 24-year-old daughter - who suffers from severe bipolar disorder and a mood disorder related to schizophrenia – was booked into the county jail after being...

To defuse problems, officers learn new methods

Modesto police officer Ben Brandvold wasn’t sure how well crisis intervention training would work in the real world. In September, he found out after completing the weeklong training, which teaches officers and deputies in Stanislaus County to...

Normalizing Mental Illness: One Mom's Hope (Multimedia)

In recent years, a faltering local economy has combined with ongoing state and county budget cuts to severely reduce Stanislaus County’s ability to treat adults with mental illnesses – a trend reflected around California. In four years, the county...

Photography Gallery: Faces of Mental Illness

Everyone pictured here has a mental illness. They live in this community. A daughter. An uncle. A sister. A friend. A neighbor. A co-worker.

Coping with mental illness in Stanislaus County

Economic calamity has a crushing effect on a community’s mental health, resulting in more people seeking treatment for mental illnesses, ranging in severity from depression to suicidal.

Faces of mental illness, 3 years later: Antoinette and Randy Brooks

The Center for Health Reporting found Antoinette Blunt and Randy Brooks in 2012 as part of The Modesto Bee’s reporting on the dilapidated state of mental health treatment in Stanislaus County.

Faces of mental illness, 3 years later: Susan De Souza

Susan De Souza called herself one of the “in-betweens:” people not sick enough to be eligible for public help, but too poor to afford insurance on their own.

Faces of mental illness, 3 years later: Jim Christiansen

Jim Christiansen manages his bipolar disorder by painting, getting massage therapy and going to support groups.

Blog Posts

What mental illness looks like

I assembled my makeshift photo studio in a windowless office just big enough for a desk and two chairs. Wax paper covered the Home Depot work lights. Electrical tape held up the white sheet I had borrowed from my Modesto hotel room. My subjects...


Lauren M. Whaley

Lauren M. Whaley

Lauren M. Whaley is a photographer, radio producer and print reporter specializing in topics related to mental illness, reproductive health care and health disparities. She is also a childbirth photographer.

This year, she is working on a series about how low-income parents access care for perinatal mental illnesses. The project is funded by the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.

Whaley was a 2016-17 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.

Her work has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Scripps Howard Foundation and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) STEM story project. She has contributed radio, video, photography and written stories to KQED Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, the San Jose Mercury News, the New York Times and other media outlets. For six years, I worked as the Center for Health Reporting's multimedia journalist, based in Los Angeles. She is a past president of the national organization Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) and spent her early 20s leading canoe expeditions for young women, including a solo-led 45-trip in the Canadian Arctic. 

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