Published: 13:13, 04 April 2019
| Updated: 19:42, 04 April 2019
The devastated family of a popular rugby player who took his own life are launching a foundation to try to stop more deaths like his.
Max Davies, a third-year student at Canterbury Christ Church University, was 22 when he was found dead by his dad while on a trip to Tuscany for his mother’s 50th birthday last August.
Mother-of-four Tracey Davies says her son, the life and soul of the family, had battled with depression in the year leading up to his death.
“We’re a very close family,” she said.
“They say that boys don’t talk, but he really did. He’d smile, flop down on my bed and he’d open up.
“He was popular, he was funny, he was handsome. He was a vivacious little boy - the mischievous boy next to two very well behaved girls.
“And he thrived at sport - rugby was his love.”
She says Max, the second oldest of her children, had a brilliant time as a student at CCCU and playing for Canterbury Rugby Club, and had no history of depression.
But coming to the end of his second year, she noticed a difference in him.
“He was very quiet, but he didn’t want to talk about it,” said Mrs Davies, who has three other children, Georgia, 25, Jasmine, 20 and son Rudy, 11.
It was when he came back to the family home in Monmouth for Christmas that he finally broke down.
“He said he was feeling low but he didn’t know why.
“He said ‘I don’t understand why I feel like this’. That was far more distressing to him than anything.
“I realised this was bigger than us,” said Mrs Davies. “We needed help.”
Max saw a psychologist who said it was likely caused by a chemical imbalance and he was put on anti-depressants with counselling.
But Mrs Davies says he kept it a secret from his friends.
“This is where the stigma comes in. It would be different if he’d broken his arm or had some other disease. This is an illness but people are scared of it,” she said.
“You look at young men these days. They are like Adonises. They look strong on the outside - Max was 6ft - but on the inside they’re struggling and don’t talk.
“We need to do something. My son was one of 84 young men who kill themselves every week.”
Max’s mental health worsened and his mum eventually brought him home from university.
It was on August 9 in Tuscany when the family’s life fell apart when she and her husband Lloyd found him dead in his room.
“We were all left reeling," she said.
“He’d left us all notes on his phone. He’d started writing some of them three months earlier on a family holiday in Belize. He’d been planning it.”
Mrs Davies says she believes he took his life in Tuscany because the whole family was together.
She said he had held a party with his friends he hadn’t seen for a while just prior to his death and had been on a trip to Rome with her, just the two of them.
“He was saying goodbye to us all - he knew what he was going to do,” she said.
“You still question if there is something you could have done.”
The distraught family are now in the process of setting up the Mind Step Foundation in Memory of Max Davies, for which they have already raised thousands of pounds.
The aim is understanding, prevention and support through sports-themed workshops as well as funding research into clinical depression.
“We also want to look into funding more easily available support in places of learning, like schools and university.
“I think universities have to do more. If you look at a degree course, students have a lot of time on their own.
“There are deadlines, social life, alcohol, which is a depressant. Tutors need to have an eye for what to look out for.”
Mrs Davies says her goal in life is to prevent more deaths like Max’s.
“This foundation is hopefully going to be something that goes beyond Max and me.”
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More by this authorMarijke Hall