Words cannot describe how it feels when you find out a friend has killed themselves, but seeing as you’re reading this article, I’m going to have to give it a go.
At first, you can’t comprehend it – nothing feels real and the shock numbs your senses. You just float around in a daze, then after a day or so it sinks in. The reality. They’re gone. You’re never going to see them again, hear that laugh, see that smile.
Then there’s the ‘what ifs’ and ‘could I have done mores’. You start to wonder why you didn’t notice something was wrong, racking your brain to work out if there were warning signs that you should have spotted. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, there are no red flags to warn that something is wrong.
We, as young men, find it incredibly difficult to talk about our feelings. Even now, as I write this, I’ve realised that I’m worried about what people will think when they read it, that people might judge me and view these words as weakness.
Reading this back over, all I can think is how ridiculous it is to think like this.
Not being able to open up to your closest friends and family about how you really feel is a terrible position to be in, but as the recent campaign by ‘Andy’s Man Club’ has shown, it’s worryingly common.
“When you find out you’ve lost someone to suicide – I couldn’t compare it to any other feeling in the world”, Luke Ambler tells me. “I’ve had people die from cancer, from heart attacks. Close people, grandparents, friends. I physically can’t help someone with cancer, but with suicide all you constantly ask yourself is ‘why?’, and ‘could I have done something different?'”
Luke set up Andy’s Man Club two months ago in memory of his brother-in-law Andrew Roberts, who tragically died by suicide. The group meets in his hometown of Halifax every Monday as an outlet for men to talk about their feelings, to help prevent other families going through the pain of losing a loved one to suicide.
And in the very short time the group has been going, it’s had a lot of success. Luke tells me that the group meetings have saved between four and six men already, by helping them to change their outlook on life completely.
— Carl Frampton MBE (@RealCFrampton) August 5, 2016
Their viral #itsokaytotalk campaign has gone global, with celebrities from Carl Frampton to Ricky Gervais helping to spread the word by taking selfies with the okay sign, accompanying it with stats that really hit home with how widespread an issue it is.
Suicide is the biggest killer of young men in the UK – in 2014, 12 men killed themselves every day. That’s one man every two hours, or 4,623 a year.
That’s a massive statistic, and Luke thinks it comes down to our lack of awareness about mental health. “Growing up I struggled with my own personal issues,” Luke adds. “I’ve had family members with mental health problems that have affected us and I already knew the statistics around male suicide before Andy died.”
“Seeing the destruction left when Andy went – having to tell my six-year-old boy his uncle had died was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do… We want to create a culture where it’s okay to talk, we want to completely change the social image of mental health. We’re in a society where one in four people have mental health problems so we need to change the stigma around that now.”
The group are already making positive steps in that direction. Today (September 10) is World Suicide Prevention Day and Andy’s Man Club have had some big plans in the run up to it.
Their campaign has partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Alliance, who’ve chosen them as the face of the national anti-suicide movement, and Luke hosted a live video stream on the Samaritans’ Facebook page last Wednesday.
Luke added: “Saturday we’re going to be in Halifax – we got invited to a lot of events this year but we realised there’s actually a massive problem in [our local area], so we’re going to get everyone together to create a human chain, to show that together we’re stronger.”
Going forward the group wants to expand nationally, creating accessible places for people to meet up and talk all over the country, before eventually going global. And there is clearly a demand for it. “We’ve had people from Australia, Dubai, America, Ireland, Wales, Scotland – you name it, they’ve messaged asking ‘can we set a group up'”, Luke says.
Luke thinks the best way to help tackle the issue is to get people talking. There is a culture of suffering in silence among young men, who would rather bottle up their feelings than open up about them and risk looking weak to their friends.
“I think it’s about a social and cultural change,” Luke tells me. “It’s about lads looking out for each other properly, because the last thing you want is for one of your friends to die and you to think, ‘could I have done anything?’ – because that’s the question you always ask – and it starts now by saying yes you could. When your mate seems a little bit down ask him, ‘how are you really?'”
Having someone like Luke fronting the movement is a great way to make it acceptable for young men to talk about their feelings.
He plays rugby for Halifax RLFC – who Luke says have been really supportive of the project – and if other guys see someone from a traditionally ‘macho’ background like this telling them it’s okay to open up, hopefully this will help it become a socially accepted thing to do, and eventually it’ll evolve to be a part of normal, everyday life for young men.
— Luke Ambler (@Ambler09) July 31, 2016
One of the things that happens after tragic deaths like these, now we’re in the social media age, is the deceased person’s Facebook page becomes a memorial wall of photos and messages of love.
It makes you think, if only they could see the amount of love and grief that pours onto social media afterwards, then they would have realised they’re not alone, and that there were so many people who would have been willing to talk to them.
That’s why talking is so important, being there for your friends and family when they seem down will let them know they’re not alone and hopefully prevent another tragedy.
This, and spreading the word about brilliant initiatives like Andy’s Man Club, are the best ways to help tackle what is a huge global problem.
You can also help by donating to Andy’s Man Club on their JustGiving page.
Or if you want to get personally involved with the group, you can contact Luke via their social media pages – they’re on Facebook, Twitter and have a website – or by emailing Luke directly at [email protected]
And if you’re ever feeling down, The CALMzone offers amazing support wherever you are in the country.
Their helpline and webchat services are open 5pm to midnight every day:
NATIONWIDE: 0800 58 58 58
LONDON: 0808 802 58
Alternatively, you can contact Samaritans on their free to call phone number – 116 123.