on 20 February 2011
Unfortunately I have a huge knowledge of what carers go through and I really liked the brutal honesty of this book. Controversial and unpopular issues are raised (exactly the same as what I have been thinking).We have swung form a world of institutions to politically correct soundbites of freedom for the vulnerable without supportive structures in place. We still have not found the balance. As well as a deep insight into hospitals, their advantages and disadvantages, the book also raises issues regarding cannabis and its underplayed dangers. Needless to say it is well written and researched from an award winning journalist father and an academic mother but it is their emotions laid bare that will resonate most with the reader. Fewer, but significant, chapters are written by their son Henry and they give hope. There are not enough books like this out there. My only regret is that it deals with the British system and not the Irish one. Personal accounts remain eerily silent over here.
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. 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 but difficult world.
When Patrick Cockburn received a telephone call while reporting in Afghanistan to tell him that his son, Henry, had been admitted into a hospital mental ward the Cockburn family began a long and arduous battle with schizophrenia.
Told by both Patrick and Henry this is the tale of Henry's road to (near) recovery. There are any number of books on the market about dealing with mental illness, but what stands this book out is it is told from both the patient and the family's point of view.
Henry's chapters are told with such honesty and candour that you can't help but to live the hallucinations with him Indeed told in this way it is understandable how he believed in them so wholeheartedly.
The chapters written by Patrick are as you would expect journalistic and informative, but the pain which Henry's illness caused the Cockburn family is clear to see.
It's heartbreaking to read the impact on Patrick and his wife as Henry goes missing for days on end and then the next chapter read what was going on in Henry's head as he tried to commune with nature and obeyed the voices in his head.
This isn't a misery memoir, and even though the health system failed the family in many way, this is not an indictment of the NHS. It is a moving and revealing look at schizophrenia, told in a refreshingly original way. For anyone who is touched by mental illness, and it is as many as one in four of us, should read this and take hope from it.
on 27 March 2011
Patrick Cockburn is a much respected and admired journalist, with deep knowledge of the Middle East, but in this book written with his son Henry he turns his gaze closer to home and gives valuable insights into the impact of schizophrenia on the sufferer and family. As the sister of a schizophrenic (although later on I was told his condition was closer to "schizo-affective disorder" - reflecting the fact that accurate diagnosis is one difficulty of the illness) the book struck many chords with me. Like Henry my brother was intelligent, humorous, attractive to others (he had a large circle of friends) and a gifted writer. Sadly, I now write about him in the past tense as he died seven years ago; unfortunately in addition to the various anti-pscyhotic drugs he was prescribed, and took conscientiously, he dabbled in a range of other substances which certainly didn't help his condition. He was also an extremely heavy smoker - something that is quite common with schizophrenics. I know through my brother's friends and acquaintances that quite a few schizophrenics eventually lose touch with or are abandoned by, their families. I am sure the support and love that Patrick, his wife Jan (who also contributes to the book) and other family members give Henry are of much benefit to him.
on 15 February 2011
This true story touched me, I felt the heartache of the parents and the desperate struggle to try and understand the illness. Anyone who needs an understanding of mental health should read this book.
on 31 March 2011
This book appealed to me as I've recently been working closely with a schizophrenic client, and have been doing some background reading around the illness. I found this to be a very moving book and it was really helpful to read both Patrick and Henry's perspective's on his schizophrenia. It gave me a glimpse into the magical world Henry experiences, and how his illness can at times be seen as a gift, and at others a great burden.
I hope this book will educate those who believe people with schizophrenia are dangerous and should be avoided or feared. The schizophrenic's I've worked with have all been incredibly gentle, creative people, who I've learnt an awful lot from. I wish Henry and Patrick all the very best, and hope this won't be their last writing collaboration together.
on 17 February 2011
This is a very matter-of-fact book, but it is also an emotionally evocative one. It tells the story of Henry Cockburn (co-author) who is diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2002 at the age of 20 (while an art student in Brighton).
Much of the story is conveyed by Patrick Cockburn, Henry's father, in a considered documentary style. He interweaves explanatory details with narrative account, but what is immediately striking is how little any of the background information on schizophrenia contributes to his (or the reader's) understanding - the condition largely remains a mystery. And so the reader is drawn into the anxiety and bewilderment associated with the situation.
Some parts of the story are narrated by Henry himself, in an almost hurried but extremely arresting style. He talks of experiencing the onset of his condition as a spiritual awakening, with his perspective on the world becoming significantly altered. As some of the events described take place in Brighton - somewhere I'm reasonably familiar with - I personally find it fascinating to see particular experiences unfolding against recognisable backdrops. For instance, there's a vision of the Buddha on Brighton beach, and the planting of a banana tree outside the Concorde 2 music venue. This locatedness - in Brighton and elsewhere - gives an additional tangibility to these occurrences.
A growing sense of the enormity of Henry's condition emerges as the story develops. There is no quick fix for what has happened; in fact, there is no fix at all. Furthermore, Henry himself is not always convinced that he actually has a problem. What he doesn't necessarily always realise - but what becomes clear to his family (and to the reader) - is that this is a life sentence.
One particularly valuable service this book does is to underline the injustices associated with mental health problems, especially schizophrenia. Various truths are highlighted, including the fact that the media often demonise sufferers as violent (statistically, very few are), that society in general often treats them with disregard (at best), and that sufferers are far more likely to be dismissed from their jobs than if they were suffering from a physical condition.
Given the downbeat quality of the story and many of the associated observations, it is tempting to wonder if there's any chance of the book ending on a positive, uplifting note. I won't give anything away, but I will say that the reader does NOT finish the final chapter with a sense of desolation. Instead (for me, anyway) there is a sense of worthwhile insight bordering on enlightenment.
on 4 January 2013
I read this book in 2011
This is a combined story of a father and son's experience of schizophrenia - the son has it, and writes about his experiences of it, and his father narrates most of the book, from his side of the experience, as a concerned Father. He feels he has a unique book in this sense, as it is two sided, but this has been done before. Very well written, yet easy to read for the masses, it unfolds the boys life story within the family unit - a family with an interesting and unusual approach, since the Mother and Father have lived mostly on their own in different countries, for many years.
Henry's (the son) writing is simple and to the point, showing the simplicity of how accepting one person can be of the unusual and hallucinatory delusions and beliefs that schizophrenia can encompass within a persons mind - whilst we would see a young man climbing up a high wall as dangerous and strange, Henry did it just to `get a better view of Brighton'. Henry does not believe himself to be ill, and does not take his medications properly.
Patrick, during the middle of the book, comes away from the key story to educate us on his extensive research of schizophrenia and bipolar, its causes, hereditary genes, how an event can trigger it, environmental factors, and the proof that cannabis can indeed worsen a persons chances who is already susceptible to schizophrenia to promoting the illness in oneself.
Whilst this was a very educational chapter, which I was amazed and in awe of, it scared the life out of me as my mother has schizophrenia and I have smoked quite a lot of cannabis in my time. Also, reading the descriptions of symptoms almost convinces me that I am getting schizophrenia. Michael has been telling me to keep away from reading about mental health problems, and to consume myself in happier things, but I cannot help it as it is so interesting, but after reading the above, I had two terribly depressing days at the weekend, so maybe I should leave the mental health stuff behind once I have finished this book. I had to read it though, as the reviews were so good, it was unique, I wanted to research it to pitch my own memoir, and it got in the top 10 for The Times hardback list.
on 3 January 2013
This book really does give a genuinely unique insight into how the scourge of schizophrenia affects individuals and their families. It is unique - insofar as I am aware - in that the honest, insightful and eminently readable account by parents of the onset and development of their son's schizophrenia is interspersed with parellel recounts by the son, Henry, himself . The parallel views of some of the significant incidents in Henry's life are revelatory, and give some tremendously useful insight into how life is experienced by people who suffer from this cruel illness.
My own daughter developed this illness when she was just 18. Her father has always taken the view that mental illness can be dealt with by 'pulling yourself together'. Reading this book has helped him to begin to come round to the idea that mental illness is actually a real, genuine illness, and that his daughter is bravely coping with some very difficult symptoms and some very difficult reactions to her symptoms by those who know no better. The fact that every case of the illness is unique to the individual also hampers the mental health profession's ability to effectively treat the illness.
That this book is written with great clarity, compassion and the added insight of personal experience by one of our most respected journalists is an added bonus, although one would never wish on anybody this particular personal experience.
It should be a 'required book' in all high school/sixth form college libraries, and a 'recommended book' for professionals to share with adolescents as part of their PSHE syllabus.
on 10 July 2012
Apologies for the title of this review - but I have just read the book in two evenings (after a year of meaning to get around to reading it) and have finished it wanting to know how Henry is now. Without wanting to give the story away to anybody who has yet to read it, as of two years ago when the book was published, Henry's recovery was as yet incomplete.
I felt a little antagonistic towards the book before I read it - I had read reviews in the Press and was under the impression that Henry's parents looked at schizophrenia from a purely medical stance, and I felt this was the wrong attitude. However, Patrick Cockburn impressed me from the start with the clarity of his writing and the fairness of his outlook. He acknowledges from the outset the possibilty of recovery from schizophrenia - hurrah! And he writes with some introspection about how his frequent absences while Henry was growing up might have had an effect on his son's mental health - although he realises that the thing to do is to look forward, not waste time regretting the past.
Reading between the lines of the book, I would guess that Henry probably suffered quite extreme anxiety as a child not only because of his Dad's absences but because of his job as a war correspondent (clearly he loved his Dad, and naturally was frightened that he would die). The fact that his mother worked full-time probably added to his insecurity. And I say this not to point the finger - these things are just facts of life, part of Henry's story and his learning journey through life - but to make it clear that there were reasons for Henry's descent into psychosis. Henry is lucky - his family loves him dearly, as he deserves - but no childhood is perfect, at least not in hindsight.
I learned relatively recently, as I finally conquered my own anxiety, that this innocuous sounding condition is at the root of psychosis. Patrick writes of the family's unsuccessful attempts over the years to procure psychotherapy for Henry - from what I gather, eventually Henry did get a limited degree of talking therapy, and this helped (Patrick also writes that Henry's former yoga teacher eventually persuaded him to take his medication - presumably this involved reasoning with him, something that psychiatrists maintained would be impossible while he was still psychotic). I really hope that Henry has by now had some CBT for his anxiety - with the right therapist this can make all the difference.
I loved some of Patrick's comments. His journalistic background lends weight to his opinions - he writes, for example, when investigating schizophrenia, that 'Symptoms do not include violence' and I felt that this was a wonderful way to state a very important fact. Again, he points out that despite the development in the 1950's of anti-psychotics, these drugs do not cure the disease, and that the treatment for mental illness seems to be at about the level of treatment for physical sickness a century ago. He tells a very amusing anecdote about how Sir Robin Murray, an eminent psychiatrist, was dealing with a patient who had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Murray said that the patient was clearly bi-polar and asked with irritation which idiot had come up with the previous diagnosis. A junior doctor pointed out that it had been Murray himself.
So Patrick clearly understands, and feels frustrated by, the nebulous nature of diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. I wished that he had gone a little further, by making the point that there is little evidence to prove that 'schizophrenia' is a disease at all, rather than an extreme manifestation of emotional distress (he does note the absence of blood tests or brain scans to establish the existence of the so-called disease). But that, I suppose, was not the remit of this book. He did quote Richard Bentall, and readers who want to learn more can follow this lead, as well as various others in the meticulously assembled references at the back of the book.
I did think there was some humour in Henry's account of matters. The first psychiatrist he meets introduces himself as Dr Duncan Angus. 'Can I call you Duncan?' Henry enquires, and 'No' comes the firm reply. My laughter at this was bitter though - why should a human refuse another human the right to address him by his first name? Especially one who he wishes to trust him?
Henry's writing is good, and I feel that he should practice more at it - perhaps Patrick can set up further projects for him, journalistic ones? If Henry begins (or continues) to get paid for his work, it will boost his self-esteem, which would be extremely valuable for his recovery. Henry has let his appearance slide, we are told - I speak from experience when I say that is not a 'symptom of schizophrenia' but Henry's outward expression of how worthless he feels inside.
I have read a lot in recent years around the subject of mental health - I would like to direct the Cockburns (and other interested parties) to the Mad in America website. I recently learned that a full recovery is possible for even the most seemingly intractable of cases - so I would encourage the family never to give up hope.
Author of 'Surviving Schizophrenia: A Memoir'.