Saturday, 4 October 2008

Patrick Cockburn, schizophrenia and the Daily Mail's intransigence

Patrick Cockburn and his son Henry were interviewed in The Independent this week. The article was reprinted in The Daily Mail. Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia and Patrick believed that it was because he had used cannabis. Patrick was/is a well known correspondent. It's pretty sad and the story, obviously, is not new. I added my bit to the feedback on the Mail's site. I wrote that I had written a book about this very subject and that more people needed to know about mental health problems, Bipolar disorder and substance abuse. I also wrote that I'll be going into schools and speaking with mental health groups about it.

Did they print my response? Well, of course not! They printed the writings of those who believed that it was Patrick's fault that Henry developed the illness. "If Dad wasn't there, then it's not surprising..." and the others who believed that there's no correlation between taking drugs and mental illness. Oh, oh... And others who felt that he deserved his fate because he was "so weak" that he "used"...

Among the responses, however, were gems from social workers and psychiatric nurses and family members and sufferers who had first hand experience of the fall-out of the now ubiquitous drugs abuse here. But they didn't print my few sentences because, presumably, I didn't fit their criteria. I was somehow publicising myself!

One of the responses read thus:

"Please keep on publishing articles like this to give others an understanding of mental illness and the strain and heartache it places on the families involved. Patrick is so right in what he says about peoples attitudes to mental illness."

You see, I do keep on trying to do just that but it seems to be flogging the old dead horse - unless you're well known to some degree, then the newspapers will simply not print it! It's so frustrating - what do you have to DO!

Then I read that Gerri Halliwell, the famous 'writer' of children's books, is the number one best-seller. She has sold a staggering 250,000 copies of her latest 'ouevre.' Maybe it's simply a reflection of our society as a whole: give them only the names of those they know where marketing is king because otherwise you won't sell anything. Have you seen how many books are being published this week alone? 800 new titles on Thursday. How on earth can anyone do anything with that?


tinacee1 said...


Hello Ros
I am the mother of a 21 year old son who was diagnosed (eventually) with bipolar disorder. I was sent your book to review by a bipolar support group (1 of many I subscribe to) to review. I received the book on Friday and finished it this morning in bed after watching The Andrew Marr programme. I had read quite a bit of it at 5.00 this morning as I had been woken up by my son in the next room shouting obscenities at his computer screen. He is fixated by a football game on his Xbox at the moment and is currently staying up all night and (sometimes) sleeping most of the day!!

There was so much in your story that was so similar to mine and to be honest after I read it I did not feel so alone as it was comforting to know that it 'wasn't just me' who was feeling the way I did about my situation. It is so hard to try to explain to members of the family and friends about how his illness affects me. I am sure many think that I am exaggerating when I try to explain what it's like living with him.

The difficult part is that he still doesn't want to believe or accept that he needs lifetime medication. His moods can change from deep depression to manic highs in a split second. These moods can come and go very rapidly. He was put on medication and he seemed to be doing well for a little while but then decided he didn't like the way the pills made him feel so stopped taking them. All I can do is pray and hope that he will go back on them and try to be encouraging without nagging. He has a psychiatrist (he doesn’t like him) that he sees once a month and a good mental health team (He says they should concentrate their efforts on someone who is ill - not him!)
He has virtually made himself into a recluse at home - his friends have deserted him as they told me he was picking fights with them over trivial things. He thought they were laughing about him in the pub. He has stopped going out really. In hindsight there were some warning signs when he was about 15 but at the time we thought they were typical teenager behaviours but to the extreme. I had taken him to the GP but she viewed me as ‘one of those overprotective mothers’ and told me to step back and to let him get on with ‘being a teenager’ – needless to say this prevented me seeking help for him after that until his 'big' episode last year. He was hospitalised for 5 weeks and he still blames me for putting him in there when in fact it was the GP's intervention when I took Jon to see him.

During an ‘episode’ he doesn’t sleep much and can stay up for days at a time and can be very irritable, argumentative and short-tempered with me. I know that it’s not him but the illness talking but sometimes it just gets to be too much but how can you blame someone when it's the illness that's making him behave that way. If things get too much I take my little dog out for a walk and try to look forward that things will get better. I think my mother must have had the illness to a lesser degree as I see similarities in Jonathan. Funnily enough, the GP asked me before he admitted Jon for assessment, if any member of the family had it as it can be hereditary.

Anyway I just wanted to say that I thought your book was beautifully written with heartfelt sincerity.
I think every Mental Health professional should read this book (as well, of course, as the carers and relatives of sufferers of this horrible illness.

Best wishes to you your family and I hope that things are stable for you all at the moment.

Assunta (Tina) Connor
West Yorkshire

Ros Morris said...

Dear Tina,

Thank you so much for commenting here. I feel so much for you! As you say, it could be you and your son thatI have written about. The symptoms are so similar...

The horrendous thing about this illness is that with, especially, young men, they live in denial. My son still believes that it was because of me in the first instance that he went on to develop full blown Bipolar disorder. "If you hadn't had me sectioned..." etc.

At the moment he is well - the best he has been for years but we still always have that nagging feeling at the back of our minds that it will all start again...

If you want to have a second opinion from a psychiatrist in London who I can recommend, then let me know. I know that he has done wonders for very close relatives (unfortunately not 'Zach' who refuses to see him!) It's good that you have a mental health team though. Something else that we don't have. Grrrr

Thanks for reviewing the book too. I really appreciate it.

All the best.