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Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Son's Story Hardcover – February 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This sensitive story of a family's battle with schizophrenia looks at the ignorance and stigma that often accompany any mention of mental illness. When Cockburn, a foreign correspondent for the Independent on assignment in Afghanistan, learns his 20-year-old son, Henry, has been institutionalized after trying to drown himself, he tries to understand why his son has had a mental breakdown. The Cockburns, a tightly knit family, are severely tested by the pressures of a loved one undone by his mind and locked away for seven years in a mental hospital. Told in alternate views, both father and son write candidly of the illness, medications, and numerous hospitalizations, along with harrowing descriptions of visions and voices. This straightforward, unsentimental book, is a bold plea for more research and cutting-edge therapies to combat mental illness. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

What to do when the bright and gregarious child you have loved and nurtured suddenly takes to stripping naked and defecating in a neighbor’s yard? Or worse, what if he courts death via hypothermia by swimming in the frigid waters of a nearby river? What could possibly be worse? If that same young man adamantly denies that he is ill and stubbornly refuses all medication that might help him. As a parent you are helpless when your son repeatedly escapes the confinement necessary to prevent him from harming himself. If Patrick Cockburn’s wrenching account of son Henry’s illness is not affective enough, Henry’s guileless divulgence of his personal reality drives home the unrelenting anguish of the families of schizophrenics. More poignant still are the journal excerpts of Henry’s mother, whose nerves are palpably raw from being in the trenches with her son’s illness and a medical community unable to help him. The family Cockburn’s unique take—by allowing Henry a voice in this book—offers valuable insights into mental illness. --Donna Chavez

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Printing edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439154708
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439154700
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #646,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By conjunction on March 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is written with great care and intelligence. By his own admission Patrick Cockburn knew nothing about schizophrenia when his son Henry was given that diagnosis about ten years ago but he seems to have read everything he could find in short order like the experienced journalist he is and among other things this book contains useful summaries of a variety of theories about the nature of the condition and its treatment. Cockburn is also very frank about the effect of Henry's experiences on his wider family. Perhaps the greatest value for me in the book however is his careful and accurate description of the way people diagnosed with schizophrenia are cared for in this country (the UK). I write as one who worked as a mental health social worker for ten years. For this reason, among others, I would recommend this book to anyone who for whatever reason wants to know about how mental illness is treated.

Cockburn also spells out the agonies carers go through. He states his opinions about various matters trenchantly and I don't always agree with him, especially on Laing and on care in the community. But his views are well put and worthy of careful consideration.

Several chapters of the book are written by Henry who gives a lucid account of his experiences. Like most people who achieve this diagnosis for many years he did not accept that he was ill. It is my belief that the `delusions' suffered by people diagnosed as schizophrenic are as real to them as other people's experience are to them, and I have also found that respecting this is the basis of any real communication with `mad' people. Henry is a talented artist and the way he talks about his communication with trees and other living things evokes a magical if clearly often frightening world.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By CGS on February 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am so glad that the authors wrote this book. I and a loved one also experienced a similar mental break, and cannabis seemed to be a trigger in our case as well. This book should be a great help for those who feel scared and alone when going through such a crisis. I'm no expert in the field of mental health, nor am I a literary critic. I'll leave any nitpicking to others. I did find the use of the word "madness" a bit unsettling to my American ears, but that is a small thing. I would recommend this book to anyone who has been through such an experience, or wants to learn more about the still too mysterious subject of mental illness.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Hey Mimi on January 8, 2014
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up in a Friends of the Library bookstore, and I wish I could thank the person who donated it. It was a gift I stumbled across, quite by accident, left there by an unknown angel. Ever since my son revealed that he was hearing voices "yelling at him and creeping him out," I've searched for books and movies about schizophrenia, that will give me a realistic understanding of what he is going through. (He is very tight-lipped about the voices and seems almost afraid to tell me about them). I can easily say that this is the best, most realistic story of what it's like to watch your child's life, previously so full of promise, be snatched away by mental illness.

It is a treasure, to have Henry tell the story from his perspective. Hearing him describe his polka dot days helps me understand what my own son might be going through. The story of losing your friends and former life is heartbreaking. But the story is told truthfully; and it's not always a pretty story with a tidy ending.

It's taken me quite awhile to read the book, because I'm nearly living this exact story as I read it! I'm in the US however, and don't have any of the many living options that Henry's family had available to them. Although, one lesson I took from the book, is that even when those options are available, you have to seek them out and fight for them. When it comes to Schizophrenia, it's difficult just getting an initial appointment with a Psychiatrist. No one hands you a list of your many various options, that's for sure!

This is honest depiction of what this experience is like for families. The roller coaster ride of hope and disappointment. The constant search for the right medication.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By birdhaven on August 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Henry's Demons is an unusual look at mental illness because the story is told by the father of a child who has schizophrenia and the child who is a diagnosed schizophrenic. Henry is blessed because he lives in England, where treatments for and care of those with mental illness is more available and organized than in the U.S. That allows for a more systematic story of how parent and child look at the illness, its impact and the longer term future. It is a story that will resonate with anyone who knows or has known someone with serious mental illness and the difficulties in getting treatment and getting the patient to accept treatment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Whistlers Mom TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 30, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I read between 250 and 300 books per year and most are enjoyed and quickly forgotten. I read a library copy of this book in 2011 and I can't count how many times since I have thought or talked about it. Patrick Cockburn's beautiful, sad, terrifying story of his son's descent into mental illness would be a compelling book by itself. Interspersed with Henry's account of his illness and it's effect on his life, it packs an emotional punch that stays with the reader for a long time.

Schizophrenia is a particularly cruel disease because it strikes many intelligent, talented young people at a time when their potential is just beginning to be developed. In Henry's case, he had already won an international art award when he began to hear the voices that derailed his life. It is also (probably because we understand so little about it) a hellishly difficult disease to treat, and the impact on families with a schizophrenic child is devastating. The author reports a conversation he had with the director of a non-profit group that works with such families. She talked about parents (well-educated, successful professionals) who started out certain that they could pull out all the heavy artillery to attack the problem and achieve fast results. The truth is that a newly diagnosed schizophrenic faces several years of in-house therapy and years more of half-way houses or sheltered living arrangements. And that's in best-case scenarios where doctors can find a medication and dosage that is effective.

Another thing that stuck in my mind was the story of a older relative in this family. As a teenager from a wealthy Jewish family, he had what he believed (and still believes) to be a visitation from Christ. As a result, he converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest.
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