FEATURE: Andy’s Man Club: the incredible concept telling men #ITSOKAYTOTALK

If you’ve checked your personal Twitter account even once in the last couple of days, you’ll have seen a whole host of high-profile people tweet with a hand gesture and a very important note attached.

If you’ve seen it and scanned over it without much thought, go back and have a look: because it’s well worth your time.

As a rugby league player, Luke Ambler knows all about the taboo subject of male mental health. Up until recently, the issue of mental health in the sport – or any sport, for that matter – had barely been mentioned – although with the work done by charities such as State of Mind in recent years, it is coming more and more into the mainstream.

Halifax prop Luke Ambler, founder of Andy's Man Club
Halifax prop Luke Ambler, founder of Andy’s Man Club

But when Ambler was hit by personal tragedy earlier this year, it was the catalyst for him to set up a concept which is now on the verge of exploding all across the world.

The single biggest killer in men under 45 is suicide. In 2014, 4623 men took their own lives, and 41% of men who have contemplated suicide have felt they can’t talk about their feelings. With Luke’s help though, that is hopefully changing.

Luke takes up the story, telling us: “My brother-in-law, Andy Roberts, committed suicide in April without any warning signs or any signals. He was at our house on the Saturday having a laugh and a joke, he played football as usual on Sunday before spending time with the family and then on the Monday night, he killed himself with no explanation whatsoever.

“I began to think that there was nowhere he could have spoken to anyone about what was going on, which is why I came up with the idea of Andy’s Man Club. It’s somewhere for men to get together and talk with other like-minded people – and they don’t just sit and talk. We do physical activities, we discuss coping strategies and talk about all sorts of things, from anger to debt management, even things like limited access to children, which some men have to deal with.”

Ambler took to social media to try and spread the message that “#ITSOKAYTOTALK”: and people have certainly listened. In the last few days alone, people like New South Wales captain Paul Gallen, Team GB Olympians in Rio and even boxing stars like promoter Eddie Hearn and superstar Tony Bellew have joined in, tweeting their support before, as is customary, nominating some more people to follow suit.

Ambler started Andy’s Man Club in Halifax to try and encourage men with problems to come and talk, and help prevent what would be the worst-case scenario. The response, he says, has been incredible.

“When I first came up with the idea of Andy’s Man Club, I expected me and Andy’s mum to be sat there on our own,” he says.

“To have the people we’ve had has been hugely encouraging and we’re only just starting. I’ve had hundreds of emails in the last few days and shows the problem which is out there. When I was sat on the couch with my other half we didn’t even know if it would get outside of Ovenden, let alone Halifax.

“We had 22 or 24 different men come into our one group in Halifax. That’s a whole range of people too; there’s people in between jobs, professional sportsmen and more. Interestingly, we had the chief executive of a major national company come in too, and that shows you that mental health can impact anyone.”

And Ambler is not stopping at limiting the concept to just Halifax, aiming to prove nationwide that the stigmas surrounding male mental health can be broken down and beaten. “It’s not a case of hoping to have one in every city: we will have one in every city, then it’ll be every town, and so on and so forth,” he insists.

“If we can move to other countries too? Incredible. I’m in talks with people in Ireland about getting one set up as soon as possible and people in the USA, Australia and Scotland have all got in touch.

“When I did it initially I naively thought I could self-fund it, but to make it grow I’m taking that hat off and I’m going for it. We’ll put stuff on all across the country and help as many people as we can – the NHS have reached out to me, and the amount of charities that have thrown their support behind it is huge.”

And although Andy’s Man Club will hopefully save lives and turn people around from the brink, Ambler will never forget the motivation from which it all began: the heartbreak of losing Andy earlier this year.

“The reason behind all of this was Andy,” Ambler says.

“The devastation that our family, his friends and his circles have had to deal with has been unbearable, and it’s been one of the toughest periods of my life as it’s something that was out of my control.

“I’m trying to urge people to think that when they’re in dark places, reach out and look at Andy’s Man Club and see what we can do for you. Try to talk, it’s not weak whatsoever to talk to people. If we could have set this up before Andy died then we wouldn’t have his two-year-old daughter growing up without her father.”

We echo that. Guys, #ITSOKAYTOTALK. Spread the message and support Luke’s fantastic concept. Follow Andy’s Man Club on Twitter at @AndysManClubUK, and Luke himself at @Ambler09.