NPR’s All Things Considered featured the story of Henry Cockburn and his father, British journalist Patrick Cockburn. While the father was reporting in Afghanistan in February 2002, he learned in a shocking phone call that his son nearly drowned when he took a swim in the icy waters of England’s Newhaven Estuary. Henry was admitted to a mental hospital and diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Nearly 10 years later, after hospitalization and many medications, Henry is living on his own and the two have written “Henry’s Demons: Living With Schizophrenia, a Father and Son’s Story.” The book features alternating chapters written by Patrick, Henry and Jan Cockburn about coping with the diagnosis and Henry’s experiences in mental hospitals.
In 2003, Texas passed a law that sought to turn mental health care in the state into a competitive marketplace. It’s 2010, and that marketplace still hasn’t materialized. The Texas Tribune’s Brian Thevenot tried to find out why. Thevenot describes it as “a textbook case of legislative intent crashing on the rocks of bureaucratic maneuvering and logistical realities.”
The state’s local Mental Health and Mental Retardation authorities are supposed to become “providers of last resort,” who turned most direct medical services over to networks of private providers. Instead, the state has remained among the nation’s worst in terms of mental health funding and, as Thevenot reports, the prison system and not the mental health infrastructure, has served as the real provider of last resort for Texas’ mentally ill.
The Los Angeles Times’ Shari Roan tells the story of a 6-year-old girl suffering from a rare – perhaps even unique – case of early childhood schizophrenia. For months, even the most powerful medications her young body can handle don’t seem to phase her imaginary animal friends and almost-constant hallucinations. The mental illness is a serious threat to her health and that of those around her. In January she had to be moved from home to UCLA’s pysch ward. Roan uses the story, told with intense, wrenching detail and ending with a note of hope for the future, to illuminate the plight of America’s tiny population of mentally ill children.
About 1% of adults have schizophrenia; most become ill in their late teens or 20s. Approximately one in 10 will commit suicide.
Doctors and other mental health experts don’t fully understand the disease, which has no cure. Jani’s extreme early onset has left them almost helpless. The rate of onset in children 13 and under is about one in 30,000 to 50,000. In a national study of 110 children, only one was diagnosed as young as age 6.
“Child-onset schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe than adult-onset schizophrenia,” says Dr. Nitin Gogtay, a neurologist at the National Institute of Mental Health who helps direct the children’s study, the largest such study in the world on the illness.
Those of you who were at last fall’s Urban Health Journalism Workshop – and those of you who weren’t – might find Columbia Graduate School of Journalism Dean Arlene Notoro Morgan’s recent column about Steve Lopez on MIWatch.org interesting.
At the Urban Health Journalism Workshop, Lopez told the story of meeting homeless musician Nathaniel Ayers, who has schizophrenia, and the lessons he learned from that experience. (Listen to an MP3 version of Lopez’ speech here.) Lopez’ book about the experience, “The Soloist,” will be released as a motion picture starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx on April 24.
Morgan, who worked with Lopez at The Philadelphia Inquirer, shares memories of the columnist, of her own family’s struggle with mental illness and the effect Lopez’ and Ayers’ story has had on the fight against the stigma of mental illness. Morgan also talks about her longtime advocacy for the mentally ill and balancing that with her career as a journalist.
MIWatch.com, a news site about mental illness, is a project of the Incubator Program of the Fund for the City of New York. It’s a nonprofit that says it does not accept advertising or support from pharmaceutical companies.