Darcy Grace Hollinson was a “beautiful, bubbly, and kind” daughter and sister.
She had many social groups and was the type of teenager who could make friends in an empty room. In her earlier teens, she was recognised by her confidence, feistiness, and shining personality. However, her family say this all changed ‘dramatically’ once we moved towards the pandemic.
Within the space of nine months, Darcy became unrecognisable. Her confidence plummeted and her once infectious positivity and passion for life diminished.
“Darcy was a very special girl. She was vibrant, confident, intelligent, funny, and very sassy,” says Darcy’s mum, Debbie Hollinson.
“She was full of ambition and had such a strong character. She had so many friends from school, RAF Cadets, horse riding, Brownies, Guides – so many people loved her. She wasn’t the type of girl you would imagine would be struggling with her mental health.
We started to realise Darcy was struggling when she was around 15. I spotted signs of social anxiety which I thought might have been related to school, so I spoke to her teachers, and they helped put some measures in place that could accommodate Darcy’s needs at that time, but then the pandemic happened.
Lockdown was like a bomb going off, not just in Darcy’s life, but in so many others lives. She was at the age where teenagers wanted to be out with their friends or boyfriends and have some independence, but lockdown made all of that impossible for her.”
Shortly after the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, Darcy started showcasing signs of depression, and within months her mental health began to spiral downwards. Trying desperately to support their daughter, Debbie and husband Michael sought all the help they could for Darcy. They reached out to the NHS and other mental health services, but with stretched services and a high demand for national support, the family struggled to access the most suitable help for Darcy.
Debbie adds, “Throughout the second half of 2020 everything started to change with Darcy. She had never been insecure in her body, she was actually very body confident, and then we noticed she started obsessing over what she looked like. Constantly comparing herself to images on social media. She began to believe she was overweight which developed into bulimia nervosa and then anorexia nervosa.
It was heart breaking to watch, I felt helpless, I couldn’t understand it, she always looked incredible in whatever she wore, from the various uniforms for Guides, RAF Cadets etc., to her own style of clothing. She always had a stylish outfit on and her makeup done perfectly. But all of her confidence disappeared so quickly.
As she continued to struggle, Michael and I tried to get her help through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), but it was difficult. Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t see anyone face to face. We would have sessions over Zoom, but Darcy was having problems engaging with people she didn’t know on a video call, so it was really tough to get the right help.
In March 2021, a turning point emerged, marking a distressing period for Darcy and her family. As schools prepared to reopen, Darcy’s struggles intensified and she began experiencing deep emotional lows and a pervasive sense of withdrawal. Despite attempts by her family to seek support, reaching out repeatedly to CAMHS and adjusting their schedules to be by her side ensuring she was never alone, they encountered a disheartening roadblock in their efforts to aid her.
Debbie and Michael tried to engage in conversations to understand their daughter’s emotional turmoil. However, Darcy found herself unable to articulate the source of her sadness, leaving her loved ones grappling with the complexities of how she was feeling.
In April 2021, just months before finishing her first year of A-levels, 17-year-old Darcy lost her life to suicide.
The impact of her death was and continues to be far-reaching, devastating not only her friends and family, but her community. Debbie says that Darcy’s death put into perspective for a lot of people that suicide does not discriminate. Very few people knew of Darcy’s struggle, let alone the true depth of it, and many later came forward to the family admitting that Darcy’s loss brought into sharp focus the destructive effects of mental health and the devastation of losing a much-loved friend to suicide.
For Debbie, it wasn’t long until she decided she wanted to do something that could help spread wider awareness – not only to help with her grief, but to potentially prevent others having to experience it for themselves.
Choosing to support PAPYRUS for its mission that now involuntarily held a place close to her heart, Debbie began using her social media platforms and her position as a Police Community Support Officer to start educating people of the signs of suicide, and how as a society we can all work to support those experiencing suicidal thoughts.
“It was quite soon after that I spoke openly about Darcy’s death, it really wasn’t long at all, because I wanted to make people realise that suicide can happen to any one of us and that if you are having even early fleeting thoughts to end your life, to reach out for help in any way you can.
Many people thought if it could happen to someone like Darcy, it could happen to anyone. Her death opened lots of conversations, but there’s still a stigma to be fought around suicide. There are things that we should know about mental health. There are things that parents could be taught; things that we should know to look out for. I just wish I’d known a bit more about how I could have kept her safe and where we could get support from.”
To date, through a series of events including a 10km run in Canada completed by Debbie and her best friend Ellie, various running events carried out by Darcy’s friends and even a cocktail gathering which featured the ‘Darcy Star Martini’, over £25,000 has been raised for PAPYRUS in Darcy’s memory.
Debbie continues to use her spare time to raise awareness of suicide prevention and hopes that by sharing Darcy’s story it will encourage others to seek help.
“I spend every day trying to keep busy, focusing on my two eldest children and my husband, working, and raising awareness about mental health and suicide. I’ll always fight to raise awareness and start conversations.
I don’t know where my strength comes from, but I know I must do everything I can to stop any other person taking their life and another family to suffer in the same way we are. It’s physically painful every day.
If my small efforts save one person, that’s amazing. I already know we can save people. I’ve received messages from people who have heard Darcy’s story and thought twice about taking their own life. They’ve thanked me for having the ability to speak up about it and said how much it helped them and made them think. That’s powerful and it drives me forward.
I just urge anyone who needs help to call PAPYRUS’s helpline, HOPELINE247, which provides a safe space for people to talk about their wellbeing and their circumstances. There are a lot of people who feel isolated and lonely. It’s such a massive thing to ask for help. People need to know they’re not alone.”