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This is Local London
By Helen Backway
Suicide is the most common cause of death among young men. Deputy news editor HELEN BACKWAY speaks to one mother about her personal tragedy and how she is helping hers.
Dan Spencer was a happy child who was popular and confident.
But this all changed when he hit 15 and 16.
He became less outgoing and made excuses about not going out with his friends.
Mum Pauline says she and her husband, Ray, sought counselling for the teenager and were assured he would grow out of it.
He was also diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Dan, or Spence to his mates, was determined to find the answer himself and would make notes going back over his life.
Pauline, of Marlborough Road, Bexleyheath, said: “He thought if he could find the reason he would be back to how he used to be.”
And the trainee mechanic underwent counselling for six years and was also on anti-depressants.
But in the last six months of his life, when he was 22, his depression got worse.
Pauline said: “He described it to me as like flicking a switch.
“One minute he was happy and then he felt agitated.”
But he never spoke about his depression to his friends.
She said: “He didn’t want people to know that side of him. He didn’t want to look weak.”
The former Welling School pupil stopped the counselling and Pauline sought advice from mental health charity Mind.
They went to the doctors together and an appointment was booked for a future counselling session to deal with both his OCD and depression.
She said: “I thought this time he was getting help for his OCD.”
But the week before he died, a series of things happened to set Dan’s progress back.
He had his van clamped and had disagreements with a friend and his parents.
The night before he died he stayed up talking with Ray for an hour-and-a-half.
Pauline recalled: “He said: I can’t go on with this life. I am not living’.”
“It was a normal evening for us. Another sort of draining evening.”
The next morning, on April 14 last year, Ray, Pauline and 20-year-old daughter Jo discovered Dan dead in his bedroom.
Pauline said: “We were absolutely devastated.
“He was so full of life. Even when he was down, he absolutely oozed life.
“The hole is enormous. We miss him for the life and sparkle he had but also because he took up so much of our time.
“Now we have a lot of time on our hands.
“To lose anybody through suicide is the worst.”
The family went through the normal range of emotions – anger, guilt and questioning whether they could have done more.
But surfing the internet Pauline found out about support group PAPYRUS, which helps prevent young suicide.
She became a member and donated hundreds of pounds to the organisation, given by friends and family after Dan’s death.
The 46-year-old also got involved in Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (Sobs) which runs a helpline for those affected by suicide.
She meets monthly with others in Maidstone.
Pauline said: “It was the first time I could talk about how I felt.”
Now gas engineer Ray comes along too and the experience of Dan’s death has brought the family closer together.
Pauline also found the confidence to make a career change from shop assistant to receptionist for a solicitor after taking a computer course.
“Dan’s death has made me a strong person and more positive.