Jani, the girl who’s hearing voices

We first saw Jani Schofield and her parents on an episode of Oprah. Then it was Dr. Phil. My first impression watching the hosts questioning and hovering over her, anticipating some odd symptom that they could show their viewers as evidence of rare childhood schizophrenia, was sadness and dismay. She really just seemed like a lonely imaginative girl with pretend friends and a problem that her parents wanted to exploit for attention and money. It seemed too that she used her pretend friends to blame her bad behavior on. And perhaps her parents indulged her in some unfortunate ways because they were so proud of her giftedness and didn’t want her to lose it to conformity and fitting in. So they didn’t correct her social behavior when maybe they should have. And why wasn’t anyone doing something to help her get some sleep? Can’t sleep deprivation cause hallucinations? So can trauma, sensory deprivation, and certain drugs. In fact, given the right circumstances, we all can hallucinate or have sensory distortions. That alone is not a sign of mental illness.

Turns out Jani’s father had a mother who became increasingly psychotic in his youth, so much so that he had to leave home at age fifteen. He does say that schizophrenia runs in both his and his wife’s family. You know what they say about giving a problem more attention than it deserves.

Wonder if they know that the chemical imbalance theory for mental illness was called by one prominent psychiatrist – ‘a kind of urban legend- – never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists’. Others like psychiatry researcher Nancy Andreasen MD, PhD, of the University of Iowa, warn about the self-fulfilling nature of believing that you have a mental illness that you can never recover from.

“Many of us feel that when you tell people their disease is lifelong, you may be creating self-fulfilling prophecies. There is empirical data accumulating that indicates the dire prognosis of schizophrenia we once had may not be so dire in many cases.” – Nancy Andreasen MD, PhD

Some caregivers use the biopsychosocial model for mental illness, recognizing that for many, psychosis can be triggered by trauma. Admitting that they tried to starve and beat it out of her, based on some bad advice they were given, doesn’t help their case.


Are they aware of the chemical assault that the drugs she’s taking will have on her brain? While sedated on major tranquillizers, she’s easier for them to manage and the father has less fears, but now they’re worried about their son.

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They’ve invested so much into this that they’re probably not interested in hearing about other strategies, like those recommended by the Hearing Voices Society. They caution that the worst thing you can do is to react with fear, that it can only make things worse. Here’s more…

“Jani and her family originally appeared on the Oprah show in 2009. Many of us within the Hearing Voices Movement were so saddened and disturbed by Jani’s treatment that we wrote an open letter to Oprah Winfrey” – open letter from INTERVOICE – the International Network for Training, Education and Research into Hearing Voices – an international organisation dedicated to spreading positive and hopeful messages about the experience of hearing voices across the world.

“It is important that parents do not assume that hearing voices is a terrible disaster but instead regard it as a signal that something is troubling their child. If parents assume that voices are a symptom of an illness, and are afraid of them, the child will naturally pick up on this feeling. This can lead to a self-defeating cycle in which the child becomes fearful and obsessed by the voices.”

Eleanor Longden gave a Ted Talk about the voices she heard which were harmless at first, progressively becoming more frightening when the people she confided in reacted with fear, and then psychiatry sectioned her. She recovered when she was given hope. Wish more people knew about this. To those of you courageously coming forward to share your stories, to help dispel fear and ignorance, you are making a remarkable contribution.

Just found another article from The American Scholar – Living with Voices

And yet another one on how Sensory deprivation can produce hallucinations in only 15 minutes. Jani does sound like someone with sensory issues.

Curious to know what you think. Please feel free to comment. Thank you for reading.

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