(INDEPENDENT) — Henry Cockburn was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2002. Until then, his father Patrick, The Independent’s award-winning foreign correspondent, knew next to nothing about the illness. But sharing the news with his friends made him realise how many people had had the same experience but kept it secret. Today, in the third instalment of his ground-breaking four-part series, he contrasts the prevalence of mental illness with its stigmatised public perception.
When my son, Henry, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in early 2002 I knew nothing about mental illness. After seeing him for the first time in hospital in Brighton I went online in my hotel room and was dismayed to discover that the US Surgeon-General had said that schizophrenia was to mental disorders what cancer was to physical illness.
Later, I mentioned to close friends what had happened to Henry and found that a significant number knew all too much about schizophrenia because they had a close relative who suffered from it. Looking after a schizophrenic brother or a sister, or, most commonly, a son or a daughter, turned out to be a preoccupation that dominated their lives.