Book reviews: “Jonny: my autobiography” and “Henry’s Demons”

The following is a review from Hafal’s Big Lottery-funded Young People’s Information Hub. To access the Hub please visit:

“When I think back to that young lad playing mini rugby at Farnham, vomiting in the hedge through nerves, crying before games because he couldn’t bear the thought of not getting it right, I wonder how much has changed.”

Those are not the words you’d expect from a world-renowned rugby player but they come from the autobiography of England and British Lion hero Jonny Wilkinson.

In “Jonny; the autobiography” Wilkinson writes very openly about his experience of depression, panic attacks, self-harm and his obsessive desire (from an early age) to be the best rugby player in the world.

During a period when he was struggling to recover from injury Wilkinson writes: “My mind is totally preoccupied with anything it can find that is negative and destructive; and it causes me to feel panic and my heart to beat quicker. My possessiveness has vacated rugby completely and started to drive my thoughts downwards, tossing endless dark, nasty images through my head.”

Wilkinson, who even admits that his anxiety was so acute he thought of “legging it” just hours before a big game against Wales, has been praised for his willingness to be so open about his depression. His book is worth reading as it highlights the pressures children and adults face in a status-driven society and how depression, self-harm, acute anxiety and panic attacks can hurt those you’d think least likely to be affected by such issues.

In “Henry’s Demons” the journalist Patrick Coburn writes of his son Henry’s experience of schizophrenia and of his journey towards understanding the changes in his son.
The book is a fascinating read for a number of reasons.

For example it shows how one person’s illness can impact on so many people (when Henry goes missing the Police complain at the cost of searching for Henry) and how even the most well educated people know little about mental illness and, even if they do, are not willing to talk about it.

Patrick writes: “I found it astonishing that so many people I thought I knew well turned out to have close family members suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. I wondered why they had not spoken about it to me. Even now I find their silence a little surprising, since most of them were sophisticated and self-confident, not likely to be intimidated by the ‘stigma’ attached to mental illness.”

One of the best aspects of the book is that as well reading about Patrick’s views and his journey to understanding, Henry also writes vividly about his own experiences of schizophrenia and what they mean to him.

For anyone wishing to learn more about schizophrenia and the effects it can have on a family “Henry’s Demons” is an excellent starting point.

“Jonny: My autobiography”, published by Headline.
“Henry’s Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, a Father and Son’s Story”, Simon & Schuster Ltd.