By Kelly Wade
In this post, we review the controversy surrounding the case of the January Schofield, the 10 year old schizophrenic.
For those not familiar with the case of January Schofield, she is a ten year old girl born and raised in the USA, who has been thrust into the public eye since being diagnosed with schizophrenia at the young age of 6. Her father’s accounts of life with January have been published in newspapers both in the States and here in the UK, and he keeps a blog updating the world of January’s life. But these have prompted a backlash from certain corners who have described his accounts as being “extremely troubling” (quote from Young Minds).
It cannot be denied that Michael Schofield paints a particularly bleak picture of life with schizophrenia, he believes that his daughter now has no hope of living a normal life, he actually states “schizophrenia cannot be fixed”. Young Minds has made a point of publishing a response to combat this and point out that his view is far from reality. Many people with schizophrenia and psychosis recover every year. Whilst her parents are most likely reacting to a future painted for them by January’s doctors, taking such a negative attitude so early on in January’s development can hardly be helpful; how can she think of recovery when her parents believe it to be impossible?
Intervoice similarly published their own response to January’s case, after seeing this appearance of January and her parents on Oprah. They highlight that a child “hearing voices” should not always be a cause for concern, 8% of children will hear voices, and in a study by Sandra Escher it was found that, in 60% of the children followed, the voices went away without any medical intervention as the situations prompting the voices appearance resolved itself. The response points out to parents that imaginary friends and hearing voices can often be a device for children to express complex thoughts and emotions, and the best response is to provide the child with an accepting and open attitude to allow them to safely explore those feelings. They conclude that “labelling a seven-year-old child as schizophrenic and subjecting her to powerful psychotropic medication and periodic hospitalisation is unlikely to help resolve her problems. Indeed, the opposite is most probable: children treated in this way will simply become more powerless.”
Part of the reason why the diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia is so controversial is the treatment that it leads to. This article in the Huffington post lists lithium, Thorazine and Clorazil (brand names for chlorpromazine and clozapine respectively) as being some of the medications that keep January’s disorder under control, specifically these drugs deal with her violent behaviour. A quick google of these drugs reveals a number of worrying side effects, including effects on the nervous system and a 40% decrease in platelet count. I find it also interesting to note that despite the strong cocktail of medications, January’s parents admit that her “hallucinations” have never gone away and in fact have increased in recent years.
Potentially more worrying that any of the medical side effects is that this is a girl who has been called schizophrenic from the age of 6, she will have to live with this identity, one that has been thrust so strongly into the public eye, for the rest of her life. Tantrums, teenage rebellion, moments of anger, will all be interpreted through a diagnostic label, a label that Young Minds believes is “at best contentious and at worst damaging”. I think January’s case really does bring up the age old question; who are the doctors really helping, the patient or their carers?
January’s case is a complicated and interesting one and this is the briefest of summaries, I strongly advise anyone with an interest in clinical psychology to get out there and read some of the articles themselves (the documentaries are especially interesting):