Around 20 men gather in a council building in Gateshead every Monday evening to chat about their problems and get things off their chest.

The men are a mix of ages, professions and backgrounds – some are autistic, most are neurotypical - but the one thing they have in common is that they’re struggling with their mental health and need some moral support.

They are part of Andy’s Man Club, a fast-growing network of free support groups set up by a suicide prevention charity and led by volunteers. Every Monday at 7pm, 3,000 men like them gather in groups from Berwick to Bristol to share their experiences.

Lee Thompson, a self-employed joiner, runs the Gateshead group at the Elgin Centre, Carr Hill, which he helped set up last year.

Lee, 44, who lost his daughter in 2008, first attended a group in Sunderland three years ago after he started having suicidal thoughts. “It took me three attempts to get through the door. But it ended up saving my life,” Lee says. 

I really love the place. You don’t have to say anything, there is no pressure or judgement. Within two hours people feel like friends, even though you started out as strangers. 

“You can see it dawn on new members that they’re not alone. Sometimes they even have a smile on their face by the end of the two hours. That means the world to me.”

The group is currently attended by several dads of autistic children who talk about the fears and pressures of family life. “For one of them, Monday night is his church,” Lee says.

“Even if the other men in the group haven’t got experience with autism, they can reassure these dads that they’re doing the best they can. Everyone would do anything for their kids.”

Andy’s Man Club was set up in Halifax in 2016 by the mother and brother-in-law of Andrew Roberts, who died by suicide at the age of 23.

Of the 100 people who take their lives every week in England, three-quarters are male. The North East has the highest suicide rate in the country.

The autistic community is especially hard hit. Research suggests that six in 10 autistic adults have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives.

Graham, who is autistic, attended Andy’s Man Club in Gateshead after experiencing mental health issues. He says: “It was good to talk and know that people were listening. Even if others in the group didn’t specifically understand autism, there was no judgement and they would never diminish the issues that were bothering me.

While autistic people struggle, it’s affecting their families too, and dads often feel they have to be strong. Where do they get support? 

“As men we don’t often talk about our feelings, and we act in a way to stop other people worrying about us. So it was nice to hear blokes’ points of view, and know that neurotypical men struggle too.” 

  • Andy’s Man Club meets in the Elgin Centre in Carr Hill, Gateshead, every Monday at 7-9pm except Bank Holidays. You just turn up – you don’t have to book, register or be referred. Sessions are free and confidential.
  • Other Andy’s Man Club groups in the North East are Newcastle, Washington, Sunderland, Souter Lighthouse, Horden, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, with another just about to open in Stockton. All meet at 7pm on Monday. See details here:
  • You can contact Andy’s Man Club at [email protected]
  • In an emergency, contact the NHS on 999 or the Samaritans on 116 123.