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


Girl Thrives Despite Paranoid Schizophrenia

During one of Jani's hospital stays, she met Rebecca, then age 9, who'd been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Like Jani, Rebecca had been battling hallucinations for years. But instead of rats, cats and numbers, Rebecca saw frightening images like wolves, men with monster faces, and shadows and shapes that would scamper around a darkened room at night.

Cinnamon Stancil, 38, Rebecca's single mom, lives in Simi Valley, Calif. She struggled with challenges similar to those of the Schofields: an enormous list of medications tried and discarded; months-long hospitalizations that seemed to produce little improvement; costly psychiatric therapies; and struggles with the insurance company, which limits the number of Rebecca's hospital stays per year. Rebecca's psychiatrist visits added up to hundreds of dollars a month, and in the fall of 2009, Stancil was laid off from her job in security.

Moreover, while Michael and Susan focused primarily on protecting their young son from his sister Jani's violence, Stancil used to lock herself in her bedroom at times, fearing for her own life. Stancil said Rebecaa once pulled knives on her and hit her with random objects, including the lid of a toilet seat.

Rebecca has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

But Stancil's vigilance has been rewarded by a marked improvement in Rebecca's condition in the past year. Her main drug, Saphris, has been effective and her dosage was upped only once. Now 10, Rebecca is in a special education program at school, and doing well. She plays shortstop on the Simi Valley girls softball team, which won the tournament championship this year.

'Spirits' Tell Teen to Become Serial Killer

Brenna Wohlenberg, now 15, understands all too well the demons Rebecca and Jani face daily. ABC News has documented several of Brenna's psychotic breakdowns, in which voices she calls "spirits" tell her to become a serial killer.

Her diagnosis is uncertain, said Dr. Mark DeAntonio, MD, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry ward at UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, told ABC News last year. "She gets very explosive and out of control. She hears voices at times," DeAntonio said. "I would say with her, it's -- there is something disturbed about her."

Brenna's family has not one but two children in the grip of mental illness. Younger sister Ailish, 14, has also struggled with hallucinations, violent tendencies and the possibilities of schizophrenia. The youngest daughter, 11-year-old Kieran, is healthy.

Brenna is currently in residential treatment in Denver, Colo., Her psychosis is well managed but mood issues are a big problem. She needs to be restrained occasionally, and deals with suicidal thoughts. The Wohlenbergs don't think she's ready to come home, but they wish she could be transferred to the facility in Texas -- Devereaux League City, outside Houston -- where Ailish landed in April when her anxiety became so severe she couldn't function. She's doing well there and has told her parents that she is happy.

Strain of Caring for Kids Takes Toll on Marriage

The financial burdens faced by these families are only one facet of the struggle. Rotating between two separate apartments has been tough on the the Schofields' relationship. The couple opened up to ABC News about the times when things have looked so bad that one or both have considered having affairs, or moving away. On the most difficult days, they admit to having contemplated suicide.

"Living apart is hard," Michael Schofield said. "We are not able to be with each other constantly and there is a lot of mixed messages. ... It is kind of like living as a divorced couple."

Jennifer Wohlenberg has lamented the strain placed on her youngest daughter by Brenna and Ailish's ailments.

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