Andys Man Club reaches out to men around the world. Luke Watson tells us how he got involved and why #ITSOKAYTOTALK
I first visited Andys Man Club to help a friend. I knew he was struggling with the death of two close friends in quick succession, he had signed off sick from work with depression and was becoming increasingly isolated. I saw a post on Facebook the day before for a mens coffee club open to any man (struggling or not) where they could meet and discuss their mental health and work through life’s troubles together.
Andys Man Club was set up after Halifax rugby player Luke Ambler lost his brother-in-law to suicide. Luke was already aware of the suicide statistics due to the nature of his business in mental health and wellbeing. It became clear the disparity between male and female suicides was so vast there had to be a reason behind it. Traditionally, men are not as open as women. They often find it difficult to express or process emotions and this is a product of the masculine society we live in today. Many of us have grown up being taught to “Man up”, “Be a man”, “Boys don’t cry” and then when we do feel low or upset, it suddenly feels embarrassing, shameful; as if we are exposing ourselves and showing weakness. We all have mental health, just like we all have physical health, and sometimes we need to talk about our issues in order to resolve them.
I have never labelled myself as having, had, or suffered with depression – but when we met on the first Monday evening I quickly realised that potentially this may not be the case. The feelings of loneliness, emptiness and worthlessness that the other lads described felt all too familiar. I’d certainly felt angry and upset. I’d experienced feelings of letting my family down, like I was a failure, and didn’t have a place or purpose in life.
I left that first session feeling positive albeit a little confused and unsure of myself. In the lead up to the following week I had time to reflect. I realised just how incredibly lucky I was to be surrounded by a positive support network in these dark times. Obviously at the time I couldn’t see it. I did my very best to push away those who loved me, and isolated myself even more. I willed myself to keep failing, and was blinded to see how a negative mindset leads to a negative effect on my life.
I went back the following week with a refreshed view that maybe I could take something away from these sessions after all – but I wanted to give something back. For me the two went hand in hand. I found the more I helped people shine a new light on their problems the better I felt. I had never experienced such a sense of reward or fulfilment before, and it felt good!
My wife and friends noticed a change in me overnight. I was focused in my day to day life and more understanding of people’s feelings and situations. I became mindful of the way I spoke and the effect it had on people around me. I felt like I’d found a purpose in just a few short weeks. I found a passion for giving and a passion for people.
Andys Man Club is group led and takes place 7pm every Monday night in Halifax. The guys decide what they would like to do or discuss. From anger management or child custody to having a game of ‘5-a-side’ or going for a walk. There are a few loose questions provided for each group just to get the conversation flowing, but each session takes shape on its own and is equally as powerful as the last. We have been very lucky in the response we’ve had to the campaign – helped massively by the #ITSOKAYTOTALK hashtag started by Luke Ambler. In a little over 10 weeks it has reached over 100 million people globally and become the biggest mental health awareness campaign of our generation.
Although the campaign has gained global media attention we want the clubs to continue growing organically. I’ve been very lucky to facilitate the Halifax group for the past few weeks and our second club found its feet with Luke Ambler at the helm. Our method of growth ensures the clubs endure without the guidance of Luke. Once the club is established a few facilitators can be found to keep the conversation flowing on a regular basis.
Our goal is to have an Andys Man Club accessible to all men in the UK within 5 years. We also aim to halve the amount of suicides in our country in this time. A huge culture change is needed to break down barriers and stigmas surrounding mental health. It is something we all need to get involved in.
Get out there, be champions of mental health awareness in your workplace, in your community or even in your household. Ask your friends how they are, and really take the time to listen. Talk openly about your own struggles; show that it is not weak and you are not ashamed. Show people they are not alone and it really is okay to talk!