WHEN Gary Macdonald set up his first men’s suicide prevention meeting in Glasgow he had no idea how many people would come.

Waiting patiently in Partick’s West of Scotland Cricket Club last September, he and friend and co-facilitator John Baines thought it might take time to gather momentum.

But they were both astounded when 31 men joined them to talk about how they were feeling.

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Mr Macdonald said: “It was great. We didn’t really know what would happen, it was the first night and we thought it might be a few weeks or a month before anyone came through the door.”

The group, originally set up as part of the UK-wide Andy’s Man Club, has operated as MindtheMen since March, encouraging men to open up about their mental health.

Showing Scottish men, who are known to stay schtum or seek solace in the bottom of a glass, that it’s ok to talk about their feelings is what drives Mr Macdonald and his five facilitators who run the weekly peer-supported suicide prevention club.

Last April, Mr Macdonald’s younger cousin Grant died by suicide, leaving family and friends devastated.

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MindtheMen was set up in his name as a legacy to the 37-year-old from Bearsden with every flyer, flag and t-shirt bearing the slogan, #supportgranted.

Mr Macdonald, 49, said: “He was the kind of guy who was always there for helping other people and was just really supportive.

“He was a talented electrician and loved travelling all around the world. He was just the nicest guy. A great son, brother, uncle, cousin and friend. Sadly he had a lot going on. We knew there were issues but we didn’t think it was to that extent and it got to the point he just couldn’t carry on.”

Struggling to adjust to life without his cousin, who he grew up with and used to babysit, Mr Macdonald, who is a health and wellbeing manager, decided to set up a group where men could offload their troubles.

He said: “I didn’t want other families to go through the pain we had experienced.

“Suicide is a ripple effect, when it affects one person, it affects hundreds of others.

“We all wonder what more we could have said or done. The important thing to know is the simple act of taking the time to talk can help many people who are thinking about suicide and realise there are other options.

“Through the tragedy of what happened to Grant, a lot of good things have happened for other men.”

At the groups, which run in Partick and Springburn every Monday, the men sit in a circle and answer six questions as they pass a rugby ball to each other to indicate when to speak.

Mr Macdonald said: “The ball stops people jumping in and giving advice or interrupting people. I’ve been told many times, ‘I’ve never told anybody what I’ve told you tonight’.

“When you open up and speak about how you’re feeling and there’s 20 or 30 guys sitting listening intently to what you’re saying, people nodding and people smiling in agreement, you suddenly feel you’re not alone.”

As the leading cause of death in men under the age of 50 in the UK, according to figures from the Mental Health Foundation, suicide is a real risk, and Mr Macdonald says there is no time to waste.

He added: “The club is about getting men through the door and speak about how they’re feeling. Being listened to is really, really powerful. His own father attends regularly, as does his uncle, Grant’s father. 

He said: “If you asked me a year ago, would you ever be sitting in a room with your dad and your uncle talking about your feelings, I’d have laughed because it’s just not what you do.

“It’s been great for my uncle to see first hand how many men his son has helped.”

All of MindtheMen’s facilitators have all had suicide prevention training and can signpost the men to further support such as The Samaritans, Breathing Space or NHS 24, should they need it.

Mr Macdonald said: “It’s like triage, or physical first aid. You wouldn’t fix somebody’s broken leg, you’d support them and then move them on to the right services.”

And support is growing with celebrity backers including Limmy and actors from the BBC’s soap River City sharing images on their social media showing off their MindtheMen branded clothing and wrist wear.

The future of MindtheMen is bright, with Mr Macdonald hoping to roll more clubs out across the city and eventually Scotland.

He said: “We’re passionate about more groups like us growing throughout the whole of Scotland. We know that men aren’t good at asking for help and we know people need help. If we get talking early and become aware of how we feel and can express it then there is recovery.

“Not all the men who come have mental illness, for some it might be social isolation, some men come because they want to support others, but everybody has mental health and it’s about how to cope when things are feeling bad.

“One day, we hope that the stigma’s not there and that people can talk. We’re not quite there yet but in the last few years things have changed a lot.”

And until then, MindtheMen are there, every Monday, waiting to listen and support as many men who need it.

Mindthemen are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Contact them at mindthemen@gmail.com.

If you or someone you know needs support contact The Samaritans on 116 123.