The trouble with men: From childhood to fatherhood, the male of the species feels under attack
IN THE picture on the right, Tony Dwyer looks happy. A glancing smile caught by an unexpected photograph suggests the kind, considerate person everyone remembers. The lank hair in need of a wash tells you he wasn't trendy: he went everywhere in that jacket and jeans. He did not try to impress with his appearance. And he was shy - in other posed pictures he hid his face with his hand. But this photograph shows good old Tony who always wiped his feet when visiting friends' houses, the young man who would gladly mow your lawn, someone whose sensitivity to suffering stopped him eating meat from the age of 12. There is no hint in this image of what drives a young man of 18 to walk off the top of a multi-storey car park one morning and end his life.

Indeed, even those who knew him best still cannot make sense of his suicide last August. They have studied his final day in minute detail. They know that, the night before, Tony had visited the local supermarket as usual with his dad to buy Pop Tarts (he ate them as usual for breakfast on the morning of his death). And of course, he picked up Yorkshire puddings that he would have eaten as usual the following Sunday, putting roast potatoes in the middle, but eschewing the customary beef. Six minutes before he died, we know he drew pounds 30 from a cash machine, money which was never recovered. His family assume he gave it to a beggar.

When the police asked his mother, Diana, to identify his body, she laughed, out of shock. It couldn't possibly be Tony. Someone must have stolen his ID, she said. And even when she knew it was him, she was convinced that someone must have pushed him. But the police told her that the event had been recorded on the video in the car park, in Nottingham. At 10.24am on Tuesday 5 August, Tony Dwyer walked off the roof. Walked. He did not jump. The precise time of his suicide is recorded on his funeral order of service. But no reason is given. He left no note.

There are many cases like this every year, as hundreds of young people kill themselves: in 1995 632 young men and 151 young women under 25 died by their own hands. Only last week, Daniel Kirwan, 16, was found hanging from a tree at his home in Cheshire. Recently, Richard Todd, the actor, has written movingly about how his son Seamas, 20, shot himself after a two-year depressive illness. The statistics for young men are particularly worrying - suicide attempts among this group have doubled in the past decade. Although far more women than men make suicide attempts, those by men are much more likely to prove fatal.

The epidemic has prompted the creation of Papyrus, a support group for parents whose sons have killed themselves. They have conducted research among members, in an attempt to identify common themes and enable other parents to spot the danger signs before it is too late.

Jean Kerr, a founder whose 17-year-old son, Edward, took his life in 1989, has questioned 79 sets of parents. She is convinced that depressive illness in young people, sparked off by the stresses of adolescence, is at the heart of the problem. She has found that signs of illness that can be recognised with hindsight were missed at the time.

Many of those who have died, she says, were very loving people, just like Tony Dwyer. The type who never complain. Suicide notes, she says, speak of, "how the individual feels that the family will be better off without them ... These are deeply caring and sensitive people who, even in their extreme depression are often trying to lessen the pain of others. A suicide note is, I believe, often the final act of love."

The irony is that these caring people leave their families devastated. "What hurts me most," Diana Dwyer says, "is that Tony cannot have realised what he was doing to us, because there was no way he would have done it if he had known."

So why did Tony Dwyer kill himself? You can speculate, as his family has done endlessly. Was the break-up of his parents' marriage the previous year a factor; Tony stayed with his father, while his mother moved nearby with his brother and sister? Perhaps, although no one can remember him talking about it. Maybe, like many suicide victims, he was fretting about exam results. He needed three Cs at A-level to win at place to study chemistry at Leicester University. Ten days after his death his family learned his results: he had only just made the grade.

Joe, his 16-year old brother, wonders whether the future became overwhelming as Tony stood at the brink of adulthood. "Maybe," he says, "he was just scared and did not see the point of going on. Maybe he thought it was too much hassle. Maybe, he had been thinking about it for so long, it all piled on top of him and he just couldn't carry on."

But this is all "maybe", because no one knows for sure. James Spicer, Tony's only close non-family friend, had seen him several times a week for six years. "I used to say, 'Are you OK, Tony?' and he always said he was fine. He never said how he felt. He was polite, well-mannered, no one hated him. But he bottled everything up and it seems that's how it came out in the end."

Emotional withdrawal also bothers his mother. "If Tony had been feeling bad," she says, "I don't think he would have known what to do or where to go for help. I don't think teenagers would think of going, say, to Childline. They think of themselves as more adult."

She is convinced that his suicide was the result of a momentary decision. It could have been avoided if Tony had known how to share his feelings. "I still can't see him sitting down eating Pop Tarts that morning saying to himself, 'I'm going to commit suicide today'. I just can't see it at all."

Papyrus can be contacted at : 01706 214449 . Parentline, which also offers advice is on 01702 559900.

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