When Jack Barnes popped out of the family home late one evening his mum was immediately worried.

Her son hardly ever went out without her. Minutes later he texted her saying: 'Don't worry xx'.

Helen Barnes was right to be worried. Just an hour later 18-year-old Jack was found by a Dyfed-Powys Police sergeant hanging in woodland near Saundersfoot in Pembrokeshire.

While her son was rushed to Withybush Hospital a police officer knocked on Helen's front door to say her son had been found.

Jack Barnes, who tried to end his life in March 2017, had a history of mental health problems

Helen can clearly remember that day on March 4, 2017. She said: "As soon as I got that text from Jack I knew something was wrong. He never just popped out or put kisses in his texts. I didn't want to overreact because he had been doing so well so I called the police non-emergency line.

"But knowing his mental health problems they raised it as an emergency.

"An officer knocked on my door and said: 'We've found him. He has a pulse'. And I was like: 'What do you mean? he had a pulse when he left'.

"They drove me to the hospital at 40mph and I couldn't work out why they were going so slow and why they didn't put their foot down. But they were killing time while the ambulance got Jack to hospital and the doctors had seen him."

Doctors managed to keep Jack alive but he was left in a vegetative state. He is pictured here with twin sister Lucy and brother Jordan
Jack's mum, Helen, looked after her son until he died two years later

Jack did survive his suicide attempt. But his brain had been starved of oxygen for more than 10 minutes before he had been cut down. He had severe brain damage. Doctors told Helen Jack would be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

"I just remember all these people walking towards me and they said Jack had tried to hang himself," Helen said. "You can never be prepared for that."

Two years later, on March 23 this year, Jack sadly died aged 20.

For Helen, who is facing her first Christmas without her eldest son, she is still living through the consequences of Jack's battle with his mental health.

"This is the reality of it all. This is what can happen when it comes to mental health," Helen said.

"Knowing I will never see him grow up, travel the world, get married, and have children is just heartbreaking."

Mental health struggles

Jack had a close bond with his twin sister Lucy
Seeing Jack left brain damaged has been especially hard on Lucy

That day in March was not the first time Jack had attempted to end his own life – he had taken two overdoses before, once at school and again at home.

Jack had struggled with his mental health ever since he was a young boy and had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) aged just 14.

He had struggled to cope through school, which Helen partly puts down to the death of his grandparents and her divorce from his father in 2012. But that did not explain his uncontrollable rage, which could sometimes lead to him trashing rooms, cutting himself, and punching walls to purposely break his hands.

It was after his second suicide attempt, in his own bedroom, when Helen sat down with doctors and demanded an answer.

"I said:'There's something wrong with my boy. I'm not taking him home until you find out what's wrong with him' and that's when they diagnosed BPD," Helen explained, who added there was also a different side to her son.

"Everyone will tell you he was the most quietest, politest of boys.

"He was a right muppet when it came to girls too – he used to fall hard."

Jack was very close to his twin sister Lucy and younger brother Jordan. But whereas they both used to spend time outdoors or meeting friends Jack was more insular and would spend a lot of time on his Xbox in his room.

"Mental health is incredibly lonely," Helen added. "If only I had grabbed his arm at that moment he left the house."

Rehabilitation and physiotherapy

For two years after his suicide attempt in March 2017 Jack made some progress.

After spending two weeks on a breathing machine, having a tracheostomy, fighting off sepsis, and developing epilepsy, Jack left Withybush on June 1 that year. He was transferred to a neurology rehab unit at Neath Port Talbot Hospital in Wales where he started to receive physiotherapy and speech therapy sessions.

It took him eight months to learn how to communicate by blinking – one blink for no, two for yes.

Helen used to ask her son if he still wanted to be die. Sometimes he would blink twice.

"Knowing he was all there, trapped inside his body, was both hopeful and tragic," said Helen.

He eventually returned to live with his mother and twin sister Lucy, in Pembroke Dock, in December 2018 – just in time for Christmas.

Back at home with Helen, Jack had been making good progress
Jack learned to communicate by blinking

Helen gave up work as a support worker with dementia patients to care for her son full-time and the house was adapted to cater for his needs.

"I would sleep on the floor of his room and we would watch TV together if he was awake," said Helen, aged 49.

"I didn't want him to feel alone. He'd gone back to being a baby. But I didn't want him to suffer."

Right from the start of his journey Helen openly shared pictures of her son in his hospital bed. She was determined to show the devastating impact of mental illness.

But in March this year Jack fell ill and was rushed to hospital. He had developed a severe infection and the decision was taken to stop treatment.

"They used to say he only survived because he was so young and had a strong heart," recalled Helen. "But he kept getting infection after infection."

On March 23, three days after his life support was switched off, Jack passed away.

The first Christmas without him and online abuse

Online trolls have targeted Helen for being 'selfish' for keeping her son alive

Helen still has her son's ashes on a shelf in her kitchen-diner at home. It means her son will at least have some sort of presence at Christmas this year.

"I don't know what to do with them," admitted Helen, who would like to one day bury them and plant a tree in her son's memory.

"I'm half-expecting my other son to grab them and put them on the table on Christmas Day," she joked.

Helen has a "dark" sense of humour – developed as a way to cope with life and her son's struggles, she said.

But even she has been unable to fend off abuse from online trolls who still send her hate messages about Jack.

"They say I was a horrible mum for keeping Jack alive," she said.

Earlier this month, she was targeted by a wave of messages telling her how “selfish” she was, how she was “torturing his soul,” and how she was “killing him every day by keeping him alive”.

She believes the messages came from a post, made two years ago, which was re-shared on a USA-based Facebook page.

Her grief is still raw and she has "dark days", sometimes struggling to leave the house. Documenting Jack's journey through recovery was only ever meant to get people talking and to raise the issue of mental health issues in young people, she said.

"He’s only been gone since March – it’s been incredibly hard.

"People should not be afraid of talking about mental health problems. It was never just a question that he’s broken so he should die – it was always about Jack’s best interest.

"You try watching your son every day when all you can do is watch him blink – there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t with him."

If she has just one message for anyone struggling to cope it's just talk to someone.

"Mental health is a terrible thing," she said. "The mess that it can leave behind and the pieces we have to pick up.

"It's not simple. Just talk to someone – a friend, a family member, a teacher. Whoever it is, don't suffer alone."

For confidential support the Samaritans can be contacted for free around the clock 365 days a year on 116 123.