The James Burke Foundation was set up following James’s tragic death, at the end of April 2017. James took his own life, which has had a catastrophic effect on his family, friends and everyone who knew him. His death came as a total surprise’ to almost all those who knew him, a characteristic of many suicides and suicide attempts. The Foundation was his mother, Sharon’s idea to raise awareness of suicide, depression, and anxiety and to reduce the stigma within society associated with mental health. Importantly Sharon through the Foundation wants to try and give mental fitness the same parity as physical fitness so that people feel able to ask for help and support whatever that looks like for them.
James was a law student at the University of Leeds, he loved university life, the camaraderie he found with the Leeds University Rugby League team (LURL) who he played with. James had played rugby league since he joined his first team when he was six years old, in the under eights team where it was quickly apparent that rugby league was the most certainly sport for him. He excelled in rugby league and he was so proud to represent Jamaica in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in the under 19s tournament.
He was a popular young man, described by friends as being kind, funny and one of the first names to be on the list for any social gathering. He was quirky, funny and had a keen sense of fairness and injustice. He spoke Mandarin, his ambition being to practice law in China when he qualified. Why would he ever contemplate suicide? What problems did he have? There lies the problem, people who are suffering, often ‘hide’ their problems for a variety of issues, the Foundation works to empower those people to speak out and educate those around them to understand, in memory of James.
Too any people are lost to suicide each year, yes its predominantly men, which is where much of the current focus sits, but 25% of all suicides are female, just as devastating. The foundation makes no distinction based on gender, working within communities and organisations to promote the message that mental fitness is everyone’s responsibility.
It has taken two long hard years to reach this point, years of indescribable pain and strive for his mother Sharon, James was her only child and her pride and joy, this work makes sure James didn’t die in vain, his legacy of good.
His mother, Sharon said:
‘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. There is evidence that this contributed to his sudden shift in mood and clearly highlighted that there is a gap in mental health support and prevention.
I want James to have been for something, I desperately want to turn this huge negative into a positive, The James Burke Foundation needs to be and will be synonymous with positive things.
If I can stop one person feeling the way I do then it will have been a success, if we can stop one young person feeling they are at the point of no return then it’s a success.
I just want James’ legacy to be positive because that is how he lived his life.
– SHARON BURKE, JAMES’ MOTHER