"Henry's Demons" is an account by British journalist Henry Cockburn about his son. How he and his wife and other family members struggled in their efforts to understand the mental illness that plagued their Henry as he got older.
Cockburn documents his son's decent into a reality that is hard to define. And, points out that it has not advanced too far from 19th Century.
As father he gives us insights into Henry's early life, the eccentricities of childhood and the fine line between what is playful fantasy and an indication that a divergence from reality is forming.
Cockburn uses all of his investigative and critical thinking skills trying to uncover the mystery behind such diagnosis as schizophrenia, bi-polar and manic depression.
Some of Cockburn's insights and information is in itself depressing. Mostly because, he shows how little modern medicine in its advancements can do in the face of such difficult cases.
Not that the medical profession is not trying, it is just that as modern life has become more complicated, help reaching many of the most in-need of cases are strained by a system overwhelmed or lacking.
He also illustrates how the United Kingdom has many of the same problems that we here in the USA have when it has to do with mental health and the homeless.
I have to confess that as picked up the book, I was skeptical that Cockburn would be able to offer anything new other than the profound efforts of a parent at wits end in a heart-breaking situation.
A debate over "nature versus nurture" type of discourse, was it the parents' fault? Where did they go wrong? That sort of thought.
This seems to be the case too when New York Times book reviewer Darin Strauss did a write up of this book back in February of 2011.
He soon noticed that this was not just another book on the topic of mental illness. Cockburn was speaking from a point of view that is not a doctor or a social worker. But one who is a care-giver and parent. The anguish he and his family have endured is what gives this book dignity and uniqueness.
As a journalist myself, I think I was taken aback at how much research went into this book. And, how much he and those he worked with were trying to understand 'why' and not just lean on an answer to satisfy a yearningly-curious and frustrated parent.
This book is worth reading, especially for those parents and care-givers who attend to people with conditions that create great worry and stress.