Call for mental health openness after death of Leeds rugby player

James Burke took his own life in April. Credit: ITV

A mother from Leeds is urging young people to talk about their mental health after her son took his own life at the age of just 21.

James Burke was a law student at the University of Leeds who excelled in rugby league - representing Jamaica in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

His mother Sharon has now set up the James Burke Foundation in an attempt to train counsellors, raise awareness of mental health issues in young people and engage with NHS bosses about prevention and also the application of prescription drugs.

James, who played for the University of Leeds Gryphons rugby league side, had recently returned from a sports tour in Rimini when he took his own life on April 29.

He was taking prescription medicine to aid his breathing which had known depressive side-effects. Sharon believes it may have contributed to his sudden shift in mood and feels there is also a gap in mental health support for young people.

She described James as a man who was "quirky with a dry sense of humour" and "believed in equality". He had ambitions of living in China and had learned Mandarin in his spare time.

His death sparked an outpouring of grief, with hundreds attending his funeral and dozens of his friends having #JB20 tattoos in his memory.

His teammates organised a fundraiser and varsity match against Leeds Beckett University last week to mark what would have been his 22nd birthday - and James' mother was in attendance.

They raised more than £2,000 for the James Burke Foundation and mental health charity CALM.

His former Leeds University Gryphons teammates played a fundraising game to mark his birthday last week. Credit: ITV
James Burke took his own life in April. Credit: ITV

According to the UK mental health charity Papyrus, four young people take their lives every day - while a further 20 attempt to do so. More than 1,600 under 35s died due to suicide in the UK in 2015.

Leeds City Council also recorded 141 male suicides in the city between 2011 and 2013.

For further information on the James Burke Foundation, click here.