Several years ago, Susan and Michael Schofield learned that their daughter, Jani, had been born with schizophrenia. The couple had a second child, a son named Bodhi. At first, they believed that Bodhi was born without any mental illnesses. As time went on, they learned that Bodhi also has some mental health issues. What’s it like to parent not one, but two, mentally ill children?
Michael and Susan Schofield decided to publicly share their story about parenting a child with schizophrenia when their daughter, Jani, was six years old. As an infant, Jani did not sleep for more than half an hour at a time. She would scream if she was under stimulated. Her parents would spend fourteen hours out of the house, taking their daughter to wherever there was a crowd. This helped Jani to sleep, but only for a couple of hours. Then, the process would begin again.
At age three, Jani began having violent temper tantrums. She was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Medication helped to make her imaginary friends go away for a while, but they would return later when the medication failed. New medications were tried.
Jani spent some time in the UCLA hospital under the watchful eye of psychologists after having violent outbursts at school. She was release to her home not because she was “cured” but because there were no facilities that could safely care for a child who was as young as she was.
The Schofields had a second child. Their son, Bodhi, did not appear to have any mental illnesses (at first). To keep their son safe from their daughter, the parents needed to live in two separate apartments. One would live with Jani, and the other with Bodhi, (switching every other day).
Today, Jani is eleven years old and is improving. She is about to finish sixth grade. She has become calm enough to leave a program for emotionally disturbed children and attend a contained classroom in a junior high school. The focus now, for her, is on adaptive life skills and hygiene.
Bodhi has been diagnosed with autism. He has episodes of severe agitation and self-harm. Susan Schofield believes that Bodhi will eventually be diagnosed with schizophrenia (with autistic traits). He is non-verbal, and on several anti-psychotic medications. Bodhi’s parents have needed to take him to a psychiatric hospital “several times a year” when they cannot control his violent outbursts.
The Schofield’s do not have other family members who can provide them with help. They have begged a regional center for some respite care so they can get some time off. Even two to three hours would help. Unfortunately, they report that the help doesn’t show up. There is no back-up plan.
Parents like the Schofield’s, who are raising mentally ill children, tend to have difficult marriages. They have had marital problems (which they are working on).
Susan Schofield said “There is a significant divorce rate in at least 75% of couples in these situations. With hardly any respite care, there have been problems in our marriage. We haven’t been out on a date in 15 weeks. There just isn’t enough support out there.” Both Susan and Michael are concerned that their children will never be entirely independent.
Image by AD73 on Flickr.