Jennifer Bowman reporting at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Dec. 2, 2021. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Reporters at inewsource are working on stories about what it’s like to manage serious mental illness in San Diego and Imperial counties. We’re going to examine mental health conservatorships, mental health courts and psychiatric holds known as 5150s and tell stories about when these processes have helped or hurt people.

We know there are relatives who have been struggling to get their loved one help — even if that person, because of their mental illness, doesn’t realize or accept they need it. And the longer an illness goes untreated, the worse it can get. 

Conservatorships and mental health holds are sometimes used to manage these cases, not always to the best end result. We want to learn about when these tools have or have not worked, and the challenges families experience when faced with these options.  

California law allows people who are diagnosed with a serious mental illness and deemed “gravely disabled” to be placed under mandated treatment. That means family members or often, a public guardian employed by a county office, make medical treatment decisions for a person such as forced medication. Sometimes, a person can be placed in a locked psychiatric facility.

One important note: We’re not looking into the kind of conservatorship that people most commonly associate with Britney Spears (that’s called a probate conservatorship and is commonly used to to help older adults and people with developmental disabilities). Instead, we’re investigating what’s known as LPS conservatorships, a nod to the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. That state law also governs 5150 holds.

We know this is a divisive issue. People are concerned about civil liberties for mentally ill people, the quality of care and if these conservatorships would be used to get people experiencing homelessness out of sight.

As family and friends experience obstacles in a complicated and insufficient system, they too must deal with a range of emotions — from anger, frustration, sadness, hopelessness and all the feelings in between. They’re trying to convince their loved ones they need help, and at the same time they’re trying to convince people with the authority to get them help that the situation is dire enough that they must step in.

The answers are not clear. And some solutions that have helped some may not work for others. We want our reporting to show the complex reality people are facing every day — and to hold institutions accountable when they fail.

We’re eager to hear from you if you live in San Diego and Imperial counties, and you or your loved one  has been diagnosed with the following mental illnesses to help shape and inform our upcoming investigations: 

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder (manic depression)
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Clinical depression
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Chronic alcoholism

Even if you aren’t familiar with conservatorships, we want to hear from you. We also want to hear from you even if you want to stay anonymous. 

Please fill out the short survey below. Investigative reporter Jennifer Bowman can be contacted at, or by calling or texting 619-796-1632. You can also help us continue this work by sharing the link to this page with your neighbors, family and other communities. 

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jennifer Bowman serves as inewsource's Assistant Editor. Before that, she was an investigative reporter focusing on government accountability issues in southern San Diego and Imperial counties. She also used to cover education. She’s happy to be back in her hometown after stints at daily newspapers...