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5.0 out of 5 stars Hope Henry's OK., 10 July 2012
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This review is from: Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, a Father and Son's Story (Kindle Edition)
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.

Louise Gillett
Author of 'Surviving Schizophrenia: A Memoir'.
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Initial post: 11 Jul 2012 17:41:58 BDT
Oh, and one other thing - Henry should really, really not smoke dope ever again. It will hinder his recovery, probably prevent it. I have read the review on here which cites all sorts of 'evidence' that smoking cannabis is fine - it really is not. I am sure that I would never have become psychotic if I had not smoked dope. It is really bad for mental health. In fact, if in time Henry can give up smoking cigarettes too, all the better - I realise this is a big ask, but it is defnitely possible!
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