A painful picture of rare childhood mental illness

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Los Angeles Times’ Shari Roan tells the story of a 6-year-old girl suffering from a rare – perhaps even unique – case of early childhood schizophrenia. For months, even the most powerful medications her young body can handle don’t seem to phase her imaginary animal friends and almost-constant hallucinations. The mental illness is a serious threat to her health and that of those around her. In January she had to be moved from home to UCLA’s pysch ward. Roan uses the story, told with intense, wrenching detail and ending with a note of hope for the future, to illuminate the plight of America’s tiny population of mentally ill children.

About 1% of adults have schizophrenia; most become ill in their late teens or 20s. Approximately one in 10 will commit suicide.

Doctors and other mental health experts don’t fully understand the disease, which has no cure. Jani’s extreme early onset has left them almost helpless. The rate of onset in children 13 and under is about one in 30,000 to 50,000. In a national study of 110 children, only one was diagnosed as young as age 6.

“Child-onset schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe than adult-onset schizophrenia,” says Dr. Nitin Gogtay, a neurologist at the National Institute of Mental Health who helps direct the children’s study, the largest such study in the world on the illness.

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