Simon & Schuster, £16.99, 256pp. £15.29 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Henry's Demons, By Patrick and Henry Cockburn

One has got used to reading Patrick Cockburn's beautifully crafted, analytical and informed pieces, often from the bloodiest of war zones, which have appeared in the Independent (and the Financial Times before that) for the past 25 years. As a foreign correspondent, he has won just about every award going as he has reported from Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran, Chechnya, Jerusalem - and of course from Afghanistan, where he was writing about the Taliban when this book starts.

Henry's Demons shows a very different Patrick Cockburn, co-writing a very different kind of story, about an issue which has affected him even more than all the body-parts he has counted over a lifetime in the battle zones. He has produced a book of extraordinary candour and frankness on the most private of his family affairs: the mental illness which struck his 20-year-old son nine years ago, and which he and his wife Jan, an academic in Canterbury, have been to hell and back with since. His co-author is Henry Cockburn, an apparently happy, normal arts student in Brighton who one night, without any warning, suddenly tried to swim across the freezing estuary at Newhaven because, he said, "voices" had told him to.

He survived – just – and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which in mental-health terms is pretty much as bad as it gets. And it got very bad indeed. After somehow managing to get home from Kabul, Patrick was informed by the consultant psychiatrist that "a third of people diagnosed with schizophrenia recover completely, one third have further attacks but show improvement, and one third do not get better".

Henry Cockburn turned out to be in the middle third, although there were years when his parent thought it could be even worse. One of the problems, normal for schizophrenics, is that never accepted there was anything wrong with him. He believed that the trees and bushes genuinely did speak to him and that his visions of tree roots responding to his touch, and voices ordering him to swim naked in the freezing water, were as real as the walls of his mental institutions.

For years he successfully fooled his nurses and doctors that he was taking his medicine, which led to an extraordinary series of episodes as he escaped again and again from the increasingly secure institutions in which he was sectioned. He later calculated that he escaped over 30 times, running off into the wild where he came within a hair's breadth of freezing to death, drowning or falling under a train.

One thing remained constant: Henry never tried to hurt anyone else. His character was that of the man in the Irish song: "Of all the harm that I've ever done, alas 'twas done to none but me." No harm maybe, but he certainly caused a lot of suffering for his parents, neither of whom could have coped without the other.

Partly as a project that might help Henry's healing process, but also to provide an insight into how mentally ill people see the world, Patrick persuaded his son to set down exactly what he experienced when he heard the voices and saw the visions. By that stage, Henry had moved up through a succession of more and more grim secure institutions, including the famous Bethlem Royal Hospital in south London, origin of the word "bedlam", and finally, as he got better, to a halfway house in south London. It is Henry's words rather than Patrick's which will make this book special for those wrestling with family members with a mental illness.

In the course of looking after Henry in these disruptive years, Patrick became something of an authority on mental illness and schizophrenia. At first, he thought schizophrenia was a mental illness which could either be cured or couldn't, but soon found it was nothing like so simple. Today, he sees it as a mental disorder which is very difficult to eliminate but which maybe Henry can learn to control.

The book ends on a hopeful yet chilling note from Henry himself: "It has been a very long road for me, but I think I'm entering the final straight. There is a tree I sit under in the garden in Lewisham which speaks to me and gives me hope."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried