When professional sportsman Luke Ambler’s brother-in-law took his own life earlier this year the rugby player decided that he wanted to do everything in his power to prevent other families from suffering such tragic and devastating loss.

While still in mourning for 23-year-old Andy Roberts, his partner Lisa’s younger brother, Luke launched Andy’s Man Club, an organisation that supports men in crisis and offers them a safe space in which to talk.

The first club is in Andy’s home town of Halifax, but it’s Luke’s aim to see an Andy’s Man Club in every town and city.

As he explains: “What is staggering is that 42% of men in the UK aged 18 to 45 have considered suicide as an option. It is the single biggest killer of men under 45. Around 4,200 men a year are taken from this world and their families by suicide.

“What seems to be the underlying problem is that men can’t speak about what’s bothering them. Women are more keen to share their problems with friends and more open to speaking about them before they mount up to a place where they feel there is no way out.

Andy Roberts , who died earlier this year and is the inspiration for Andy's Man Club, founded by rugby player Luke Ambler

“Men go to football and rugby and the pub – there is this culture of ‘man up and get a beer down you’.”

His campaign #ItsOkayToTalk, promoting more openness among men, has become a social media sensation, acquiring more than 1,200 new followers a week.

It has been featured on the BBC World News, by media groups around the world and was chosen by the National Suicide Prevention Alliance as the official campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day earlier this month.

The Samaritans charity has estimated that the campaign reached more than 100 million people.

Luke said: “We’ve gone viral in Australia and America, I’ve got people ordering our T shirt from Australia and I’ve been asked to speak on Australian radio.”

VIDEO: Luke Ambler explains why he's running his campaign

Video thumbnail, Luke Ambler explains why he's running his campaign
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Andy, who Luke describes as “one of the truly nicest people I’ve ever met” and an “all round top guy”, was a loving and doting father to his infant daughter and was training to be an HGV driver at the time of his death. As is often the case, no-one suspected that he was depressed or considering suicide.

Luke, 26, who plays for Halifax RLFC, says there was no warning whatsoever.

He added: “Just before he died Andy was at our house having a laugh and talking about a holiday and buying a house. We had no idea how he was feeling.”

The idea for the man club was born when Luke, who has two young children of his own – a boy Alfie and girl Aubrey – read the statistics for male suicide.

“We have to ask why men won’t talk,” he said. “Embarrassment, weakness, burden – they’re all things they worry about. They don’t want to burden their loved ones. As men we are the cavemen, the hunters, we have to be strong not weak. There’s a lad culture. As a rugby player I’m in a perfect lad culture; 25 lads together, where if you show a bit of weakness it’s ‘let’s go out and get drunk’.”

Andy died in April this year and the man club was launched in late July. Luke explains how he took a gamble and posted his intentions to start the club on Facebook. Within two days the post had 1,200 shares, but even so he was concerned that no-one would actually turn out in person.

VIDEO: Luke's tribute to victims of suicide

Video thumbnail, Luke's video tribute to victims of suicide
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The first meeting was in a at the Threeways Centre in Halifax.

“I thought it would just be me and Andy’s mum,” said Luke. “But then in walked nine guys.”

One of them was 26-year-old engineer Luke Watson, who says he came to the first meeting with a friend who was struggling with depression and unable to work.

But he acknowledges that he too had problems.

He said: “I felt a bit of a fraud walking in because my problems aren’t as big as anybody else’s. But the group is all about sharing perspectives. I have realised that I do have problems, I’ve had debt problems for years and it has put me in some dark places.”

Tragically, after joining the group one of his friends committed suicide and, once again, no-one close to him had any inkling there was anything wrong.

“My friend was the life and soul of the party,” he said. “He was due to go on holiday, we never suspected anything.”

Halifax RLFC's Dane Manning (left) and Luke Ambler halt Widnes Vikings' Declan Hulme Picture by John Rushworth

Luke (Watson) says Andy’s Man Club allows men to speak openly.

He said: “I know my friends will listen to me but I don’t want to burden them. But the great thing about the club is that we have all become friends and we are opening up and sharing our problems. Some weeks we sit and talk, other weeks we go and have a game of five-a-side.”

The club in Halifax now meets at The Shay Stadium on Monday evenings from 7pm and regularly attracts more than 70 attenders.

Luke is aiming to bring in experts to advise on a whole raft of topics – from child access and debt to gambling addiction. He’s even thinking about running anger management or even martial art classes.

Luke says he’s willing to help anyone who wants to set up an Andy’s Man Club in their home town. Contact him through Luke.Ambler@aol.co.uk and visit the Andy’s Man Club Facebook page for details.

He added: “Our overall aim is to halve the number of suicides. I know that’s a massive task but it’s something to strive for. Even if we only manage a quarter we will have done something amazing.”

The response to his campaign so far has shown that it’s much needed.

“It will never slow down,” predicts Luke.