A new group in Torbay have taken it upon themselves to help tackle increasing rates of men dealing with mental health issues.
It comes as the borough has the highest rate of suicide in England with it being the main cause of death in men under 50.
Andy's Man Club was first formed in Yorkshire after a young father took his own life in 2016. It has since spread across the country.
The Torbay group grew out of sessions at Newton Abbot, and started meeting at the cafe in Marine Parade at Preston in autumn 2019. The group meets on Monday nights at 7pm for two hours at the Kinda Cafe to provide a safe place for men to talk.
The volunteers have all experienced mental health difficulties and are there to offer support.
One of the first to attend the sessions was 29-year-old Zach Randoll who is now a volunteer for the group. He had been feeling suicidal, but found it difficult to accept what was happening to him until he started talking about it.
Zach said: “I just went along, there were six or seven other people who I had never met before in my life. They were the nicest people I have ever met. It grew every week.
“You don’t have to have a bad week to come. Sometimes you come for the conversation, and to help other people. Sometimes people are having a crisis. We give peer to peer support, from experience.
"One of the things about depression is that it is isolating. You think no one else is going through it, and no one else is suffering, so no one will understand. But it is not true.”
The issues which come up include bereavement, relationship break-ups, addictions, and trauma and abuse which can date back many years.
The men sit in a circle and take it in turns to talk, if they want to, but there is no pressure if someone just wants to listen.
Volunteers help the conversation along, and people share what has gone well, or what is troubling them. Everything shared with the group stays confidential, although help may be sought if someone is judged to be at immediate risk of harm.
Volunteer Graeme Ross, 45, said: “It is OK to talk. It is OK to admit you have depression and anxiety. The other message is that there are men out there going through this, and you are not alone.
“There are people who have been suicidal, and have come to the other side. We understand, we don’t judge, and we can help.”
Torbay has a rate of suicide well above the figure for Devon and Plymouth. Members of Torbay Council’s Cabinet heard that deprived areas were the worst affected.
They also heard the rate in the borough had generally increased year on year since 2010 and it was the main cause of death in men aged under 50, young people and new mothers.
The council has responsibility for tackling suicide and its cabinet approved a new Torbay Suicide and Self-harm Prevention Plan for 2021-22. The strategy has been developed by the new Torbay Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Alliance and sets out an action plan for key priorities.
The plan aims for no increase in the suicide rate in Torbay, and hopes to see a reduction from the rate of 19 per 100,000 population closer to the level of similar authorities of around 12.
When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.
Credit: Ed Oldfield, Local Democracy Reporter