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Father who lost son sets up charity to 'plug gap' in mental health services

Jac died after struggling with mental health problems for five years Credit: Jesse Lewis

A year ago today, Jesse received a call that a parent never wants to receive.

His son, Jac, had died after a five-year struggle with mental health problems.

Jac was a well-known member of the community and one of Ammanford AFC’s best-known characters - but Jesse said his son was always hurting inside.

"Jac had his issues for years, and I think you come across this in a lot of people. Jac was always hurting inside."

Ammanford AFC meant a lot to Jac, and Jesse said "he meant a lot to the club."

"Jac was the nutter, he had the flares, he was the idiot in the stands. I think one boy said, 'Jac Lewis you can't take him anywhere, but you can't go anywhere without him'", Jesse said.

Jac was the joker. If he made other people happy, then it gave him a bit of comfort, because he knew he was hurting inside.

– Jac's father, Jesse
Jesse and Jac on a skiing holiday Credit: Jesse Lewis

Jac tried various treatments and therapies through the NHS, but his parents said they ended up having to pay privately after a specific treatment was no longer available on the NHS.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request found there are almost 4,000 people currently waiting for mental health treatment in Wales.

Jesse founded the Jac Lewis Foundation because of concerns over long waiting times and a lack of available treatments and therapies.

"Being part of this is difficult, but I don't think I could live with myself, if we didn't try", Jesse said on setting up the charity following Jac's death.

I adore the fact that the community has come together to try and achieve this.

There are people running marathons coming back with £50 but that £50 is money that's going directly back into the people - it's making things available.

The club initiated this charity, there's no two ways about it.

If it wasn't for Ammanford AFC then it wouldn't have happened. They've united, not just the footballers, but other local clubs as well. They've all come on board, contributed and raised money. This really has pulled the community together.

– Jesse Lewis

Jac's family said they hope that they will be able to prevent what happened to Jac from happening to others.

Despite only officially launching the Foundation in December, the foundation has already appointed a counsellor to support those with mental health needs.

One GP said half of her appointments are mental health related.

Dr Nerys Frater of Brynteg Medical Practice said she feels "helpless" and doctors only have 10 minutes with each patient, which isn’t enough to get to the root of the problem.

She said: “We see one complicated patient after another, and try to do it in 10 minutes.

"So it puts a lot of pressure on doctors, and on the mental health of doctors.

"Patients usually come to us expecting a tablet, and for some people that’s what they want, they’ve been on them before and they have helped. So that’s what our role is, we’re not counsellors, we can’t do that because of time. I just feel like a legal drug dealer sometimes, because that’s all we do is give tablets out.”

The Welsh Government said it is spending more on mental health services than on any other part of the Welsh NHS, and funding has increased to £712 million for the next year.

It said it has seen a significant increase in the number of people accessing mental health services and are working with partners to improve the support people receive.

See more on this story by watching Ein Byd, Sunday at 21:00 on S4C. The programme has English subtitles.