Luke Ambler is the founder of the men’s suicide prevention charity ANDYSMANCLUB. They offer free-to-attend, peer-to-peer support groups across the United Kingdom and online, with the aim of ending the stigma surrounding men’s mental health.
For PathFinders, we spoke to Luke about the family tragedy that spurred him into action to set up Andy’s Man Club. From an idea borne out of grief, the club now has over 120 free support groups across the country, serving almost 3,000 men a week through 900+ volunteers.
Has mental health always been important to you?
My own personal journey with mental health started way before ANDYSMANCLUB. It started when my eight years old. Without going into a sob story, my parents separated, quite a normal thing to do for a lot of people. But my way of dealing with it was comfort eating and I put on a lot of weight and got big, had a bit of a hard time at school for it. I found rugby which was my crutch, a place where I could go and express myself.
Being a big kid in rugby helps. Mom ends up having a car crash which led to some brain damage, and she developed a mental illness, non-epileptic attack disorder which basically means mum will drop, she’ll fall, you name it, she’s done it.
They moved my mum to where she lives now in a little disabled bungalow., because otherwise she could fall down the stairs and die.
And a result of her illness she developed quite poor mental health, so she developed anxiety where she won’t leave her house for four years at one point just won’t leave on leave for the fear of people judging her having these falls, because it was so stigmatised then, even more so than it is now. That was difficult and the bouts of depression out of that. It was hard to manage and learn and understand it. As a young man, I probably didn’t understand or maybe didn’t believe it.
How did you come to found ANDYSMANCLUB?
On 5th April 2016, my brother-in-law, my partner’s little brother, died by suicide and it came completely out of the blue. Just to give you a backstory, we were out on the Sunday laughing and joking, talking about buying a house. He’d just got promoted at work or they were looking at a promotion at work, everything was going well in his life from what he’d had in the past, he’d completely changed his life around.
On the Sunday morning, he gets up to play football and then he goes to the Palladium with my missus, his daughter and the kids.
And then that night I meet him as I usually would, all of us around my mother in laws for Sunday dinner and then next morning he gets up, goes to work and then doesn’t come home that night. Next morning my mother-in-law gets a knock on the door by a policeman, to say that they’d found her son dead. I’m about to go to a rugby camp with my little boy Alfie, who was so tight with his uncle Andy.
My phone rang, it was my mother-in-law. I said hello and she just said, our Andrew’s dead. And I said, I’m on my way. I dropped Alfie off and shot up to the house. And I remember like it was yesterday, the atmosphere you could have cut with a knife.
Later I had to tell Alfie that his uncle Andy had gone up to heaven, and to hear the scream let out by a six-year-old boy will live with me forever. It absolutely crippled me and was the catalyst for this movement. No family should have to go through what this family’s going through.