Emily Bachar '22 was a senior studying a Psychology major with a minor in Political Science, and a 2021-22 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.
In 2008, social worker Heath Hodge arrived at a residence in San Francisco owned by the nonprofit that he worked for, Conrad House, which owns and operates various homes for adults struggling with mental illness. He was there to check on Teresa Sheehan, a 56 year old woman diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Sheehan was struggling, and had exhibited worrisome behavior such as declining meals and failing to attend house meetings. Hodge was called there to check in on Sheehan and to help her access care, as she was clearly in need of real support. The day ended with Sheehan being transferred to the emergency room with 14 bullet holes in her body, including in her head, after police officers arrived.2 How did this interaction go so horribly wrong? How did this woman, in dire need of medical care and attention, become the victim of police violence? The answers to these questions are quite complex and deeply rooted in the unjust treatment that people struggling with mental illness are subjected to in the United States.
Although the circumstances surrounding Teresa Sheehan’s tragic experience that day in San Francisco are complicated and unique, the story is all too familiar. The criminalization of mental illness in the United States is a pervasive and tragic problem that is both a symptom and a cause of broken criminal justice and health care systems. Nationally, an estimated two million arrests, or 16.9% of the total number of arrests, per year involve people with serious mental health conditions.3 As the nation’s largest mental health facility, the sheer number of incarcerated people who are enduring mental illness shows an epidemic that permeates throughout every corner of our communities. This paper will serve to dissect the dynamics of both the criminal justice and health care systems within the United States, and understand the ethical implications behind these fundamental structures that are currently failing thousands of members of our communities every day.
Read or download a PDF of Emily's full paper, "Criminalization of Mental Illness."
About Emily Bachar
"Emily Bachar '22 graduated with a Psychology major and a minor in Political Science, the intersection of which is what she is hoping to dedicate her future career to. Mental healthcare policy reform and advocacy is the issue that she is most fascinated with, and allows her to apply her passion for both psychology and politics. After graduating from SCU, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in psychology and move to San Francisco. In her free time, she loves to get outside with friends and family to hike, ski, and explore the beautiful Bay Area!
Through her time working with the Markkula Center, she looks forward to understanding the ethics around mental healthcare currently in place, specifically with regard to the criminal justice system. Disentangling mental health and substance use issues from the justice system are a critical area in which reform is needed to ensure people get the care that they need."