'Justin had 15 cans of energy drink every day': Heartbroken dad says depressed son's "addiction" contributed to tragic suicide at 25

Dad Keiron Bartholomew is haunted by a devastating image of his son in the weeks before his death, picturing his boy lying in bed, tormented by depression and anxiety , heart racing, mind whirring, totally unable to switch off and get some sleep.

On an average day Justin was drinking at least 15 cans of energy drinks, flooding his system with caffeine and sugar.

It was an “addiction” his family are convinced contributed to his tragic suicide at the age of just 25.

A single can of energy drink can contain as much as 160mg of caffeine — more than a double espresso – and up to 14 teaspoons of sugar.

Keiron, 64, says: “He was drinking 15 cans a day and that was just the ones we could see he was drinking.

“I said to him, ‘You’ve got to wean yourself off these’.

“He just said, ‘Dad, I can’t stop drinking them, I’ve tried. I can’t just stop. It’s like trying to stop smoking, I just can’t’.

“My son was addicted to them.” That, combined with depression, is what Keiron believes drove Justin to take his own life last August.

Justin’s devastated dad Keiron believes the energy drinks caused a decline in his son’s mental state
(Image: ITV)

Keiron and the family are backing a Mirror campaign to restrict the sale of high-energy drinks to under-16s.

Justin’s case was brought up in parliament this week after his MP Maria Caulfield initially raised the issue.

She said: “Justin’s family are convinced that the high-energy drinks he was taking, over 15 cans a day, increased his anxiety and contributed to his suicide.”

Keiron says: “Children who have energy drinks now are likely to be hyper and obese.

“But you also have to think about what can happen if they get hooked on the things as they get older.

“My son was drinking energy drinks, which accelerated his depression. It’s a double-edged sword – energy drinks are bad for you because of the sugar and the caffeine.

“But, also, if you are drinking these drinks and you have depression, it is a lethal combination. I also believe that a total ban should also be considered.”

Before splitting from his wife in 2015, three months after their wedding, Justin, from Newhaven, East Sussex, was “a live-wire, happy-go-lucky, fun, and full of life”, says Keiron.

But after the break-up of his marriage, Justin’s depression took hold and he made several suicide attempts.

Keiron, who worked with Justin as a scaffolder, says: “He was a family man, through and through. And he was a sensitive lad – he came across as butch and masculine, but he was like a little soppy dog. Being such a sensitive person, he just couldn’t cope with the relationship break-up and losing his stepson.

“He took it all to heart. Around the time of his first wedding anniversary, May 2016, I got a call saying he was in hospital and with a Crisis Team.

“They decided they would do an hour chat with him every other day. After they got involved, he started to bounce back a bit. But this is when his energy drink consumption rocketed.”

The family have questions about how Justin’s mental health was handled by the Crisis Team, which Keiron hopes will be answered at the inquest which takes place later this month.

Justin, left, with his brother Daniel

But once Justin became dependent on energy drinks, there was little the family could do to help him.

Keiron says: “He was coming to work with a can of energy drink – cheap ones for about 35p a can.

“To get value for money, he’d come in with bag-fulls of these drinks. It accelerated very quickly into addiction.

“His brother Daniel would look in the back of the van and see piles and piles of empty energy drink cans. We’d clear them out and the next day there would be more again.”

The side effects were frightening. Justin had heart palpitations and sleepless nights.

He would shake and break out in a sweat. Keiron recalls one time when Justin had “a bad turn” and went straight to the doctor, who told him he had a heart rate equivalent to a man of 80.

As the depression got worse, Justin would have energy drinks in the day and alcohol at night. Keiron says: “It was a vicious circle. It spiralled out of control.”

Justin on his wedding day with brother Danny and dad Keiron

In the months before his death, Justin changed beyond recognition. Keiron says: “It was like Justin became another person.

“He was transformed. I didn’t recognise him. I could see it in his eyes that he wasn’t right. Over three months he went from the normal Justin that I knew and loved, to heavily depressed. Depression is a dangerous thing, combined with energy drinks it was a lethal combination.”

Speaking through tears, Keiron recalls the harrowing moment he was told his son was dead.

He says: “On the day he died, myself and my partner had just arrived to get married in Scotland. The minute we got to the hotel we got the phone call that he had attempted suicide and had not pulled through.

“It was the worst day of my life. He had his whole life in front of him.

“Justin took after me, he was a hard worker, he always turned up for his shift, he was good at what he did.

“His career and his life were all planned out for him. I believe he would still be here if it weren’t for the energy drinks.

“I think we could have talked him round as a family, we would have helped him through it.

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