Henry's Demons (Hardcover)

Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Son's Story

By Patrick Cockburn, Henry Cockburn

Scribner, 9781439154700, 256pp.

Publication Date: February 1, 2011

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (2/14/2012)
Paperback (12/8/2011)
Hardcover (2/1/2011)

List Price: 25.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


On a cold February day two months after his twentieth birthday, Henry Cockburn waded into the Newhaven estuary outside Brighton, England, and nearly drowned. Voices, he said, had urged him to do it. Nearly halfway around the world in Afghanistan, journalist Patrick Cockburn learned from his wife, Jan, that his son had suffered a breakdown and had been admitted to a hospital. Ten days later, Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Narrated by both Patrick and Henry, this is the extraordinary story of the eight years since Henry’s descent into schizophrenia—years he has spent almost entirely in hospitals—and his family’s struggle to help him recover.

With remarkable frankness, Patrick writes of Henry’s transformation from art student to mental patient and of the agonizing and difficult task of helping his son get well. Any hope of recovery lies in medication, yet Henry, who does not believe he is ill, secretly stops taking it and frequently runs away. Hopeful periods of stability are followed by frightening disappearances, then relapses that bleed into one another, until at last there is the promise of real improvement. In Henry’s own raw, beautiful chapters, he describes his psychosis from the inside. He vividly relates what it is like to hear trees and bushes speaking to him, voices compelling him to wander the countryside or live in the streets, the loneliness of life within hospital walls, harrowing “polka dot days” that incapacitate him, and finally, his steps towards recovery.

Patrick’s and Henry’s parallel stories reveal the complex intersections of sanity, madness, and identity; the vagaries of mental illness and its treatment; and a family’s steadfast response to a bewildering condition. Haunting, intimate, and profoundly moving, their unique narrative will resonate with every parent and anyone who has been touched by mental illness.

About the Author

Patrick Cockburn is Iraq correspondent for the Independent in London. He has received the Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting, the James Cameron Award, and the Orwell Prize for Journalism. He is the author of Muqtada, about war and rebellion in Iraq; The Occupation (shortlisted for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2007); The Broken Boy, a memoir; and with Andrew Cockburn, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein.

Henry Cockburn was born in London and raised in Canterbury, where he attended King's School and received several awards for his artwork.  In 2002, during his first year studying art at Brighton University, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.  He recently moved out of a rehabilitation center to begin living independently.

Praise For Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Son's Story

"A living, breathing book... Henry’s Demons is a probing tour through the glories (and occasional idiocies) of the British health care system, through the history of schizophrenia and through the often barbarous ways patients have been treated. It’s a tour, too, through the psyches of two bright people watching their son unravel, the stitching pulled from his mind like wool from the bottom of a sweater. Nearly every aspect of this family’s life is interesting and quasi-novelistic."
--Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"A gripping drama of family life in a maelstrom. The Cockburns bring home the rigors of major mental illness…This is a kind of war-and-peace story, with internal and external turmoil, hope, sabotage, and surprise. A mind-bending, heart-rending psychological classic.”
-- Library Journal

“Henry's Demons offers a bifocal view of schizophrenia and its impact on a family. This myth-shredding, light-shedding account explores a condition that few present-tense 'insiders' have ever written about. Patrick Cockburn writes with a journalist's lucidity; Henry Cockburn's descriptions of how someone with schizophrenia sees the world recall certain cult-artists such as Bruno Schulz and Syd Barrett. A truly remarkable book, and a brave one.”

--David Mitchell, author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Cloud Atlas

"This is, yes, a book about a serious mental illness, but it is much more -- it is a story of a father's love for a child and the ability of a desperately ill child to perceive the force of that love and use it as a source of strength. It is also a brutally honest account of parental missed signals and misunderstandings -- not surprising, though, given Patrick Cockburn's career of telling it as it is."

--Seymour M. Hersh

“Just as Henry Cockburn's beautiful and ingenious paintings were a clue to his distraught mental state, so this intensely moving collaboration with his father and mother illustrates the ways in which suffering and trauma can be the gateway to love, solidarity, and even healing. There is poetry in this prose: the bipolarity of misery and exaltation that Blake understood.”
--Christopher Hitchens

"A compelling, powerful first person account of the gritty realities of living with serious mental illness. Patrick and Henry are utterly real."

-- Mark Vonnegut, M.D., author of Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So and The Eden Express

“Together, father and son illuminate how “madness” can be as generative as it is devastating. This is an inspiring testament to the power of family to save and sustain each other through adversity, one written with great humanity and grace. The tenderness and terror in these pages stayed with me for days. Touchingly, it is Henry who has the last word, and it is one of hope.”

--Claire Fontaine, coauthor of Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back

Henry’s Demons is the harrowing yet hopeful story of the descent into schizophrenia of UK journalist Patrick Cockburn’s son Henry at age 20. Henry’s self-reflections are the stuff of raw genius.”