WHEN was the last time you had a conversation about mental health with a male friend, your partner, brother, your son or father?

A new campaign launching this week aims to get people in Swindon doing exactly that.

Named simply Men’s Mental Health Swindon, the week-long programme of events and exhibitions, is hoping to tackle the still taboo subject of men’s mental wellbeing.

Backed by Swindon Borough Council, charities and the Swindon Advertiser, the campaign aims to address historically high suicide rates. Between 2015 and 2017 three times as many men took their own life in Swindon than women.

Borough public health officer Charlie Paradise, one of the campaign’s organisers, said: “It comes down to the fact that, if you look at the statistics, there are more men who take their own life and fewer men accessing mental health services.”

Men’s mental ill health has become a high-profile issue in recent years – in part thanks to support from celebrities and the royal family.

But people still struggle to speak to each other about their own mental health. The Swindon campaign wants to encourage people to ask the simple question: “How are you really?”

Ms Paradise said: “If your mate’s stressed, get them talking. We used to be so good at this. We’ve forgotten how to ask people how they are.

“This campaign is very much about raising the profile of looking out for one another.”

Figures released over recent years by Public Health England, Swindon Borough Council and Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, show that the town is by no means an outlier when it comes to poor mental health.

Last year, there were 52 hospital admissions for mental health conditions and 2,710 people were given a new depression diagnosis. The suicide rate – 11.3 people took their life per 100,000 - was lower than the south west average of 15.8. AWP, the NHS trust responsible for mental health care in Swindon, said last year that on average four people a day attempted to take their life.

However, Swindon has long struggled with self-harm. The average, with 375.6 people per 100,000 admitted to A&E after they intentionally harmed themselves, put Swindon worst in the region.

And Chris Ellis, head of nursing at AWP, warned that men were more likely to engage in “risky behaviour” such as self-harm.

The mental health nurse has spent 30 years’ working in the sector: “In general terms, men tend to do more risky behaviour than women. While it’s definitely still true, it’s also changing.

“There was a time when the highest rate of suicide were amongst younger men. That’s now moved to an older population. That may reflect attitudes changing and older people being victim of bottling things up.”

Why do men bottle up their emotions? Why don’t they seek help earlier?

Darren Tee is director of Swindon and District Samaritans, the charity whose volunteers speak to those often at their lowest ebb.

“I think the reason men are more likely than women to take their own life is that masculine opinion or idea that people hold [about what a man should be].

“When that goes wrong or when people don’t live up to that reality, develop depression or reach a low point in their life, men are more likely to take bigger risks or more likely than women to do something that will end their lives.

“Men don’t seek support.

“It’s about awareness and getting men to understand that it’s okay to not be okay. The whole point about the Samaritans being there is that you don’t have to do anything alone.”

The reasons why men approach organisations like the Samaritans had remained largely the same over the years, Mr Tee said.

“Relationship problems are the big factor, particularly where a couple has children. If they split up, it tends you be mum who takes the children. That can be a big hit to a man’s mental health.”

He urged men struggling with their mental health or crises in their lives to reach out for help: “Talking is the start to solving some of these problems. Putting them into some order.”

The Samaritans chief compared some mental health struggles to blowing up a balloon, with men keeping their troubles trapped – or bottled up.

“If you don’t let out that air the balloon will pop,” he said.

So, what should you do if you fear a friend, family member or colleague is struggling with their own mental health?

The key, say mental health services and the Samaritans, is to be there for them.

Mr Tee, of Swindon and District Samaritans, said: “You don’t need to solve their problems. You need to let them sound it out.”

He added: “Don’t be afraid to leave silences. That’s the key thing. Sometimes there’s still that stigma that we shouldn’t talk about mental health.”

AWP nurse Chris Ellis said it was okay to ask the obvious question – are you thinking of taking your own life?

“There’s been a myth - and it continues to some degree - that talking about suicide might introduce the idea into someone’s mind,” he said. There was no truth in the myth.

The Men’s Mental Health - Swindon, will see various events around the town. They include music performances at the Olive Tree Café on Thursday, an art exhibition by mental health service users at charity IPSUM and a special programme on Swindon 105.5 looking at men’s wellbeing.

For full listings and for more about the campaign, visit: www.mmhswindon.co.uk. For support, call the Samaritans on 116 123.

All this month the Swindon Advertiser is backing BBC Wiltshire's Mental Wealth calendar. Downloadable from the BBC website, the calendar offers up daily ideas of things that can improve your everyday wellbeing. Today's tip is to make the bed.

Lending his support to the campaign, Adver editor Pete Gavan said: “We all know mental health is something we should be talking about more and more.

“That’s why we’re backing the BBC on this campaign. We want to help make a difference and get people talking about how they feel.”