If the news that a 6-year-old girl was diagnosed with schizophrenia took you by surprise, join the club. January Schofield, known to her family as Jani, is something of an anomaly. Pediatric cases of schizophrenia are exceedingly rare, which has fueled the national frenzy over her case this month.
At least, that's part of why people are paying attention to a new memoir by January's dad, Michael Schofield. But beyond the rubberneckers and the looky-loos, I'd wager at least a portion of the parents drawn to January's story are hoping this marks a change. I know I am.
Society's attitude toward adults dealing with mental illness has taken Neil Armstrong-type leaps forward in the past few decades. Pharmaceutical companies advertise openly on network television, and admitting you have a therapist is like admitting you saw an ear, nose, and throat doctor about all those sinus infections.
But it often feels like mental illness in children is still the stuff of fairy tales. Our kids are "just going through a phase." Grandparents answer a kid's depression diagnosis with "What does he have to be depressed about? He's a kid."
Perhaps most frustrating of all for parents are the lack of answers. We know how adults "should" act. But it's hard to suss out whether a child's sudden mood swings are the result of growing pains, lack of sleep, something more ... You don't know what's "normal" for kids when you have never been a parent before.
The Schofields knew Jani wasn't "normal." She had what would eventually be determined were hallucinations. She had uncontrollable rages that made her hurt her younger brother, Bodhi. Literally made her. It was clear something was wrong.
And yet, Michael's book, January First, reveals a struggle to get help, to find answers. It took years to come upon a schizophrenia diagnosis. In part it's the particulars of the disease.
But it's also the system, the way society is set up. Parents don't have a path to help a kid with a mental illness because there is still a refusal to believe that kids have them at all.
It's terrifying to hear about a 6-year-old diagnosed with schizophrenia. But I have to look at as encouraging too: because of Jani, we are talking about this, we are acknowledging that kids and mental illness are not two disparate topics. It make me hopeful that one day parents won't be afraid to seek mental health help for their kids, that kids will get help as Jani has -- sooner, rather than later.
What do you make of a 6-year-old with schizophrenia? Did you realize kids can be mentally ill too?
Image via Jani's Journey