Schizophrenia in Children: Families Grapple With Costs, Emotional and Financial

Photo: Families Grapple With Costs of Childhood Schizophrenia: Months-Long Hospitalizations and Marital Stress Among Challenges Facing Families Whose Kids Suffer From Severe Mental Illness
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Thirty miles north of Los Angeles, in a community in the Santa Clarita Valley, Michael and Susan Schofield are doing their best to keep their family together while mental illness forces them to live apart. The Schofields live in two different apartments, one for each of their two young children.

Since the age of 5, their older child, Jani has experienced violent and commanding hallucinations in the form of numbers and animals that tell her to hit, kick and bite her parents and her younger brother Bodhi.

Early in the summer of 2009, the Schofields started living apart to help manage Jani's battle with childhood-onset schizophrenia and protect both children. "She was five years old, and she came up to me and said, 'Mommy, I can't tell the real world from my imaginary world,'" Susan Schofield told ABC News correspondent Jay Schadler.

Caring for Jani: A Full-Time Job

By 2009, Jani's schizophrenia was so debilitating that she spent 207 days in UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital that year. Her doctors said they believed she hallucinated during all of her waking hours.

Jani, now age 9, has improved since then, having gone to the hospital only twice this year. Her violent tendencies are mostly gone, but she still deals with her psychosis daily. She manages it pretty well, although she still talks about her hallucinations. She's starting to deal with the social anxiety that comes with her age, and this stress can make the psychosis worse.

For more information on childhood schizophrenia.

She attends school, thanks to the unique two-hours-per-day program the Newhall School district constructed just for her: one hour of occupational therapy and one hour of tutoring with a teacher and an aide. The Schofields often visit a local animal shelter so Jani can play with the animals and she receives equine therapy once a week at Carousel Ranch in Santa Clarita.

Jani's parents monitor her powerful antipsychotic medications: 300 milligrams of Clozaril, 100 milligrams of Thorazine, 900 milligrams of Lithium and two antihistamine pills each day.

The Schofields face a financial fight as well. Keeping the two apartments has put immense economic strain on the family. Susan, now 41, was laid off from her job as a news and traffic reporter in September 2008. Michael, now 35, took a leave from his job at a state university in the fall of 2009 to help care for Jani. Michael has gone back to teaching since then but paying for two rental properties, various medications, psychiatric therapy and food stretches their finances to such a limit that at times, Michael has asked solicited financial help from friends. The Schofields considered moving out of their two apartments and into a two-bedroom unit earlier this year, but the idea made Jani extremely anxious, so they backed off.

Michael and Susan Schofield have also battled insurance companies to get them to help pay for their daughter's hospitalizations. Jani's hospital stays have been covered jointly by state and private insurance. The Schofields said that before they took their story public, their private insurance company would frequently refuse authorization for hospital stays after two weeks regardless of Jani's condition.

The Schofields fear Jani's brother, Bodhi, has autism, but there has been no official diagnosis. The Schofields must also contend with the fact that there's a 50 percent chance that Bodhi also has schizophrenia.

Michael is writing a book about Jani, and the Schofields fight for childhood mental illness reform. They plan to organize a march on Capitol Hill next summer to bring more attention to the issue.

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