Henry’s Demons: A Review
by Louis Proyect
Cockburn, Patrick, and Cockburn, Henry: Henry’s Demons: Living with Schizophrenia: a Father and Son’s Story, Scribner, 2011, ISBN 978-1-4391-5470-0, 238 pages.
(Swans – August 1, 2011) Three weeks after Jared Loughner shot six people to death in Tucson, Arizona, and wounded another 14 including US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Henry’s Demons hit the bookstores. So dismayed was I at the time by the level of ignorance on the left about mental illness, including, I am afraid, an article by Sam Smith that appeared on Patrick’s brother Alexander’s CounterPunch, I only wished that every single subscriber to the “Tea-Party-made-him-do-it” theory could read Henry’s Demon. (Smith opined that Loughner drew “bizarre conclusions” from the books he read, a function of not developing “critical thinking” in school or college. This completely ignores the question of brain chemistry, as if sending Loughner to Philips Exeter and Yale would have made any difference.)
As someone who has studied this issue in some depth because of both a close friend’s and a relative’s struggle with schizophrenia, I can say that Henry’s Demons is a book that will go a long way in illuminating one of society’s most intractable public health problems. By making the personal political, Patrick Cockburn has made an enormous contribution to our knowledge about a disease that is subject to the most ignorant prejudices, unfortunately even from our most educated classes.
In Kabul on February 8, 2002, Patrick Cockburn received a phone call from his wife Jan informing him that a fisherman had pulled his twenty-one-year-old son Henry fully clothed from a freezing cold river in Brighton. Suffering from hypothermia and just one step ahead of death, the youth was taken to a local hospital and then shortly transferred to a mental hospital. This was the beginning of an ordeal that lasted for the better part of a decade. It is almost impossible to imagine how Cockburn continued to function as one of the world’s top foreign correspondents while coping with his son’s never-ending dalliance with death. Although many people associate psychosis with violence against others, the greatest risk for the mentally ill is that they will do harm to themselves.