Earlier this year, on a Monday night in April, Luke Ambler’s brother-in-law Andy Roberts took his own life.
Ambler and his family were left devastated by the news. Two days before, Roberts had been at Ambler’s house, joking and laughing – he even played football on the Sunday. But then he was gone.
It was in response to this tragic life event that Ambler, a father-of-two and professional rugby player, launched ‘Andys Man Club’ – a safe space for men in crisis to open up to others in a similar situation.
While the club only launched three weeks ago, it has proven to be hugely successful, with guys who have hit rock bottom overcoming personal obstacles and becoming support anchors for others in a similar position.
Ambler says his support group started out as a coffee club for men with tea, biscuits and the opportunity to get things off their chest. But it swiftly transformed into a group session where they discuss recent life events and talk through coping strategies.
The 26-year-old also recently launched the successful #ItsOkayToTalk campaign to break down stigma around men opening up about how they feel, which garnered support from the likes of Ricky Gervais and Danny Cipriani.
“That feeling, of helping someone, I’d probably place it just underneath the birth of my daughter in terms of importance and impact,” Ambler tells The Huffington Post UK.
“I could never put it on a par with the birth of my daughter, but we’re talking about life here – when someone is born, that’s life, and when someone decides to stay on this earth, that’s life too. For me, no monetary value or anything on this earth could ever compare to that.”
In the UK, suicide is the number one killer of men under the age of 45, with 12 men taking their lives every day.
The male suicide rate is currently three times higher than that of females and while that figure decreased slightly in 2014 – from 17.8 to 16.8 deaths per 100,000 population – it’s still very much a problem.
Andys Man Club is part of an ongoing drive to help lower this figure.
“There have been about 22 men who have come over the past three weeks,” he explains. “The group is really strong now and there are people who are support anchors and people who need help.
“But everyone there has come from the same dark place.
“There are a wide spectrum of problems that can drive people to this place. You’ve got break-ups, access to kids, unemployment, debt, just generally feeling down and not being able to express yourself because you are a man and you feel like it’s weak to talk.”
Sessions can last anywhere between one hour and three hours. Men have to be over the age of 18 to attend and it’s currently only available for residents in Halifax – however it’s Ambler’s dream to launch more support groups across the UK.
“It’s been really powerful seeing changes in the people that have come already,” says Ambler. “The power of Andys Man Club is in the men who sit down and help one another through the tough times.”
The success of his #ItsOkayToTalk campaign has rocketed Ambler’s support group into the limelight – and it’s proven that there’s a huge demand for similar groups across the UK.
“I’ve had hundreds of emails and messages from people saying how powerful the #ItsOkayToTalk campaign has been,” explains Ambler.
“One guy messaged to say, ‘you’ve saved me’ – he saw the campaign just at the right time. In fact, I’ve had around 10 people email me to say the campaign has helped them get past some very dark times.”
Ambler says he didn’t expect the social media campaign, which he thought up from his living room, to have a big impact.
But it did and in the space of four days it swept the internet and gained national attention – with Olympians, comedians and all manner of celebrities showing their support.
For those who haven’t spotted #ItsOkayToTalk on social media, the campaign involves taking a selfie while doing the okay sign with your hand. You then share on social media and tag five friends to do the same.
Mental health charity CALM have praised the campaign’s efficacy. The charity’s Chair of Trustees, James Scroggs, tells The Huffington Post UK: “CALM is thrilled to be supporting Luke and the fantastic #itsokaytotalk campaign.
“We maintain guys can help each other and share such a positive message among their peers; and also hear it from their role models across the sports and entertainment worlds.
“While suicide remains the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK, this message needs to be pushed far and wide.”
In response to the success of his campaign, Ambler says: “It’s flabbergasting to see such an impact that’s been created from a little town in Halifax, by a family that’s very passionate about mental health and suicide.
“Since then I’ve been getting emails from big charities in the UK and health providers who want us to get on board with them.”
Now he hopes to make groups accessible for men across England – and then further afield. There’s also talk of creating an ‘Andys Lads Club’ for boys under the age of 18.
“My aim is to reduce the statistic of male suicide by half in five years across the country,” he says.
His advice for guys in a dark place right now is simple: “Reach out and speak to somebody – they’re not going to judge you, like you think they will. People are more compassionate than we give them credit for, there’s a lot of love out there.
“Head to your local services or speak to the Samaritans or Calm. They can all help you immediately.
“Just remember: it’s okay to talk.”
CALM’s free, anonymous and confidential helpline and webchat are available 5pm-midnight daily. Go to thecalmzone.net/get-help for details.