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Local Families Deal With Their Children’s Mental Illness

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By Lisa Sigell

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — When it comes to children, when is it bad behavior and when is it something much more serious? We took a glimpse inside the devastating reality that two local families are facing.

Brenna Wohlenberg hears voices that she cannot hide from and she cannot get away from. They tell her to hurt herself and her family. They are the demons in her mind — she is a child in throes of mental illness.

“I’m not alone, I’m never alone, you don’t understand,” Brenna screamed.

“When you have your own child saying to you, ‘I’m not a monster. I’m not a monster. I want to love you, but I can’t because the voices won’t let me.’ The voices are in our house,” her mom said.

“They want her to kill the dogs, they want her to kill us, they especially want her to kill Jen and she has told us this,” her dad said.

Brenna’s parents had to make the agonizing decision to send her to a permanent residential treatment center.

“Every maternal instinct tells you this is wrong, you’re going to drop her off and leave and every bone in my body is saying ‘stop, stop, stop, you cannot leave her here,’ and she is hanging on to you and you’re just saying, ‘I can’t do this, I’m not going to do this,’” Brenna’s mom said.

Brenna is not the only one in the family who suffers from mental illness. The Wohlenberg’s have two other daughters. The youngest, Kieran, is healthy, but the middle child, Ailish, is also struggling with mental illness.

When she was 6, she tried to kill herself by punching out the window of her room to jump. Several times she has run out of house and tried to throw herself in traffic.

A few years ago, her sadness and anger almost turned to tragedy when she tried to kill her younger sister, the one she considered perfect, the one who could feel the happiness that she could not.

“I tried to strangle my sister… I just remember that I got really, really angry and then my hands were around her neck,” Ailish said.

“I had these bruises everywhere and all over my neck and stuff. I mean it was really scary,” Kieran said.

“I had lost control,” Ailish said.

You may think that this is an isolated case, but it is not. Just a few miles from where the Wohlenbergs live another family struggles as well.

While most families would spend time together after dinner, it is the time when the Schofields separate for the night — sleeping in different apartments in the same complex to protect their son Bodhi from their 8-year-old daughter Jani. It has been this way since Bodhi was born.

“She was constantly threatening to hurt him and she would be hitting me,” her mother said.

“I’m schizophrenic,” Jani said.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“I see things that aren’t there,” she replied.

Some of her hallucinations are commanding.

Even as a newborn her parents noticed that something was different. It can be seen in a home video where Jani appears to be fixated on something and her mother is heard questioning her about it.

By age 5 the visions grew — some appearing as people and some as animals. She calls most of them numbers.

“What does 80 tell you to do, Sweetie?” I asked.

“Jump off buildings,” she replied.

The voices would tell her to hurt herself or even her parents.

“Do you like your voices?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“This is a very rare case. You’re not going to go to an elementary school and see five kids like this,” said Dr. Mark DeAntonio, director of the child and adolescent psychiatric ward at UCLA.

We all know that kids will be kids; they can be moody, have temper tantrums and some even have imaginary friends. The question is when is a child just being a child and when is it something more?

The doctor said tantrums and even rage are common between ages 3 and 6, but hallucinations are not normal. As for imaginary friends, he said they should disappear by age 7 or 8. If they do not, you may want to consult a doctor.

Is there any voice you wish would go away forever?” I asked Jani.

“Four hundred,” she replied.

“I think I always knew that I was a little different,” Brenna said.

“I want people to understand that this is not bad parenting. This is not bad behavior. This is a mental illness,” said Brenna’s mom.

For more information on mental illness and these families, visit the following websites.

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