Depression and anxiety doesn’t discriminate. Whether you’re a multi-millionaire footballer, living the dream with fast cars and big houses, or you’re living from payslip to payslip, struggling to pay bills – it can happen to anyone. You’d think that in 2017, with so many high-profile celebrities coming forward and being open about their battle with their mental health that we’d have finally put an end to the stigma but sadly, even in 2017 mental health is still an issue that many in society don't know how to talk about or deal with.
And it seems to be worse for men. You’ve probably seen the campaigns that try to encourage males to talk about their feelings, that it’s not a case of manning or toughening up, and that it’s okay not to be okay. Yet it still remains a huge problem and it’s really scary that suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. What’s an even more shocking statistic is that 42% of men aged between 18 and 45 have at one time or another contemplated taking their own life.
The subject of depression and suicide is very close to my heart, so when I heard that some local men were trying to do something about it, I wanted to have a chat to see what their plans were and how I could help to spread their message – it’s okay to talk. 42% of men aged between 18 and 45 have at one time or another contemplated taking their own life. On a Tuesday morning over a coffee, Alex McClintock and Adam Allison told me all about Andy’s Man Club, which has only just launched in Perth and brings guys together for a couple of hours in a safe and confidential environment to get anything off their chest and meet others in a similar position to themselves.
The concept is the brainchild of Luke Ambler – a former Rugby League player from Halifax – who sadly lost his brother-in-law Andy Roberts to suicide in 2016. Luke started Andy’s Man Club in his memory and it’s now rolled out in 10 locations across the UK, with Perth being the only club north of the border. Alex and Adam’s Perth club is quite unique because as well as holding sessions for the local community, there is also an Andy’s Man Club held inside the prison.
The club was first launched in HMP Perth at the beginning of September, followed by the local community sessions which started last week and they’ll be held in the Muirton Suite at McDiarmid Park. Alex and Adam have received the support of Saints in the Community, who’re providing the facility for the club free of charge.
Alex – who’s a prison officer at HMP Perth – started off by telling me how Andy’s Man Club came to the city and about his own personal experiences with mental health.
“I work in the gym at the prison and I’m involved quite a lot in recovery, so we’re always looking at things which might add to what we’re doing. I was just having a nosey online at Instagram, and I came across a post with the tagline, ‘it’s okay to talk’ so I decided to Google it.
“That’s how I came across Andy’s Man Club and I got in touch with Luke there and then. I’ve suffered from mental health problems since I was 21 and I encounter it on a daily basis in the prison, so I was really keen to bring the club up to Perth, and Luke was keen on rolling it out so that’s where the whole thing came from.”
Adam is a colleague of Alex’s from the prison, who’s also passionate about helping people suffering from depression and anxiety.
“What we’re still seeing is that men don’t talk,” he told me, “we need to get beyond that – men do cry, and it’s okay for men to cry.”
The club runs every Monday evening between 7PM and 9PM, a day and time selected for a specific reason. Not only was this when Andy Roberts took his own life, but statistics show that this is the most common time for people to die from suicide.
“If we can save one person then it’s all worthwhile,” Alex commented, “but hopefully we can save a lot more than that.”
The passionate pair are not discouraged by the fact that there weren’t many people from the local community at the first session last week. The numbers of prisoners coming along and participating is growing each time and Adam thinks that once the word is out in the local community, more and more men will come along to the Monday night sessions at McDiarmid Park.
“It was always going to take off in the prison first because it has its own little bubble and word spreads a lot quicker in there. Luke also told us not to expect a large amount of people coming along to begin with, and that it was the same during the very first Andy’s Man Club in Halifax last year. Now, the Halifax club is like a brotherhood and they all support each other and it’s growing all the time.
“When Alex and I first went down to one of the sessions there, I was left close to tears by some of the stories. You can’t help but feel emotional and it just made us even more determined to bring it to Perth because unfortunately, there’s a need for it.
“The end goal of Andy’s Man Club is for there to be no Andy’s Man Club. Until that time comes, we’ll be there for everyone. It doesn’t matter if one person comes to the session or a hundred attend, we’re committed in the long-term to be there both in the community and in the prison.”
It’s exactly that commitment which led to Saints in the Community offering to help Alex and Adam get this fantastic club up and running. Iain Smith, Funding and Marketing Manager for the charitable trust, was blown away by the passion of the two prison officers and was delighted to be able to support the cause. If we can save one person then it’s all worthwhile, but hopefully we can save a lot more than that.
“We were in a position to help the guys by providing them with a facility to host the sessions on a Monday night and I think we were all really touched by how much Alex and Adam wanted to roll this out in Perth.
“It’s exactly the kind of cause we wanted to get involved in and we’re proud of the fact that Andy’s Man Club is launching in Perth and that it’s the first one in Scotland. I don’t see any reason why it can’t spread to the other cities.
“While we obviously wish that there was no need for it, the stats don’t lie and it’s quite scary. Whether you’re lonely, have some minor problems or you’re feeling suicidal, we will welcome all men with open arms and provide them with a safe platform in which to speak their mind and share their stories with others like them.”
With Alex and Adam being prison officers, they were very keen to launch the club inside HMP Perth with both feeling like there wasn’t enough being done to help offenders with their mental health. Alex was enthusiastic when we talked about the difference it’s making already and how Perth is leading the way among Scottish prisons when it comes to helping inmates with mental health problems.
They know that it’s going to take time to make a difference in the local community but the response in the prisons gives them cause for optimism and Alex thinks that eventually Andy’s Man Club will grow, with former attendees still going along to share their experience and provide support for others.
“We noticed down at the Halifax club that there were guys there just wanting to be there in support for other men going through depression, even if they themselves were in a good place. It’s like a family and that’s what we’d like Perth’s Andy’s Man Club to be like.
“It says a lot about Luke and the original Andy’s Man Club that they came all the way up to Perth for the first session at the Muirton Suite last Monday just to lend support to the men of Perth, and both Adam and I. We had a great night chatting about our experiences and it meant a lot that they’d make such a lengthy journey.”
There’s now a place in Perth for men to go on a Monday night to talk, which is separate from family, friends or medical professionals, and where there is absolutely no judgement. The sessions are very relaxed and laid back with a circle of chairs round a table set up and a ball which is passed around the group, signalling whose turn it is to share their thoughts.
The facilitator asks the questions, which are a mixed variety with everything from the groups favourite movies or music, to what’s went well for them this week and what’s made them smile.
“Luke calls it a shit sandwich,” Alex joked, “we ask nice and easy questions to start with, and then challenge the group to speak out about how they’ve been this week and why they’re here.
“Then we finish each session by asking them another question which isn’t related to how they’re feeling. It can be anything, from Donald Trump and North Korea to how they think Saints got on at the weekend.”
The pair of them are just getting started and are in talks with other local charities and organisations such as PKAVS and the Student Union to try and get the word out about Andy’s Man Club. Alex has also penned a letter to local GP’s, asking them to mention the club and sessions to any male patients who come to their surgeries to talk about having mental health problems.
Upon leaving Alex and Adam – with the parting gift of hundreds of leaflets and a wristband showing the Andy’s Man Club saying ‘it’s okay to talk’ – I felt uplifted at the thought of two men giving up so much of their time to try and help others.
To anyone reading this who thinks someone is going through a rough time, please share the details of Andy’s Man Club with them. Alex and Adam are there to help support, with the pair both saying they’d happily meet anyone who's struggling for a quick coffee and a chat outwith the session times. It’s time to change the shocking statistics of male suicides and tell every man out there – it’s okay to talk.
Andy's Man Club Perth is held every Monday night at the Muirton Suite, McDiarmid Park for men aged 18 and over. The sessions last from 7PM to 9PM and are completely free to attend. For more information, please contact Alex McClintock on 07825873477 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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