PERFECTLY calm yet utterly lost, Andrew Mawson parked his car in a layby, walked out to the middle of the viaduct, and prepared to jump to his death.

For 15 minutes, he stood there, agonising about the moment he would take his own life. Then his phone pinged with a reminder about choir practice and it brought him back to his senses.

“I honestly don’t know whether I’d be here now if that hadn’t happened,” says the 53-year-old father-of-three. “When the phone pinged with the reminder, it lit up with a photograph of my daughter and I thought ‘what are you doing?’”

For generations, mental illness has been a taboo subject among the men of Teesside. It wasn’t something to be talked about. They were breadwinners, expected to get on with it, tough it out, and God forbid that they might shed any tears.

But gradually, the taboo is being lifted and part of Andrew’s solution to his own problems had been to go along to The Storytellers pub in Stockton and join the Infant Hercules men’s choir, inspired by music teacher Mike McGrother. It was a decision that Andrew now believes saved his life.

Teesside has an unhappy reputation as the suicide capital of Britain and the A19 Leven Viaduct, near Yarm, where Andrew almost ended it all last September, is a known suicide blackspot.

“I have a lovely wife, three great kids, a well-paid job, and lots of friends and yet I felt utterly lost. It’s just something you can’t explain,” says Andrew, a production shift manager in the confectionery industry.

While battling his demons, Andrew had heard about Infant Hercules, watched a few of their videos on YouTube, and was persuaded to go along to a rehearsal with a friend from his local Freemasons club.

Like scores of other men, he discovered a sense of belonging in the choir. There was a friendship and a freedom to talk about feelings and problems without being judged.

“That night on the viaduct, I was just completely zoned out,” he recalls. “I couldn’t even tell you what the weather was like. I just wanted to end it until that reminder came through about choir practice and I saw my daughter’s face.”

Even now, he can’t pin down the source of his depression. In the summer, he’d been on a family holiday to a beautiful villa in Italy but kept finding himself staring into space. A life-long season ticket-holder at Middlesbrough, he’d also end up looking at the sky instead of the match. While walking around, he’d suddenly burst into tears.

His doctor had put him on anti-depression tablets, but they made him feel worse, and yet when he confided to friends at his local bowling club, close to where he lives in Hartburn, Stockton, they couldn’t believe that someone so apparently grounded and normal could possibly be suicidal.

The morning after the night on the viaduct, Andrew went to work, and began thinking about going back to the same location to finish it for good. This time, he called his doctor and she put him in touch with a crisis team at Billingham.

“I’m lucky to have a doctor I can call whenever I need to, and she and the crisis team have been brilliant. I can’t fault the care I’ve had,” he says.

He was taken off the medication that had been sending him “loopy” and poured his heart out to Mike McGrother after the next choir practice.

“Mike’s just an amazing bloke. I don’t know where he finds the time and energy for everything he does – and he’s such a great listener,” says Andrew. “There are quite a few blokes in the choir with mental health issues and it’s not so much about the singing, but the camaraderie. We’re all in in together.”

Mike had been brought in by Stockton Borough Council to lead the town’s creative commemorations of the centenary of the First World War. He’d launched the 1,245 Sunflowers project – remembering the 1,245 soldiers named in the local book of remembrance – and he asked Andrew to get involved, using his skills as a production manager to help drive the project forward.

Andrew's employer has also been refreshingly supportive. He was off work from September and put on a phased rehabilitation programme, going back full-time on January 22.

In the meantime, he embarked on a walk from Stockton to Saltburn, with other members of the choir, helping to raise £3,500 for The Samaritans. Of course, Mike was there too and has stayed in regular contact.

Andrew was one of about 100 men who turned up at The Storytellers for the launch of Mike’s Pals Programme – “social club for the 21st century” – which aims to build on the success of Infant Hercules and make further inroads into Teesside’s suicide rates. The initiative takes its name from wartime Pals battalions, comprising friends and work colleagues.

Specialist training in being a “listener” for those with mental health issues is one of the activities on offer and Andrew, who reveals that he had a friend who hanged himself from a tree, plans to sign up.

“Because of my experience, I want to put something back,” he says. “This is such a big problem and if we don’t talk about it, and learn to listen, it'll just get worse.”

Although he’s still being treated for depression, Andrew finally feels he’s on the right track, and now wants to help others, starting by telling his own story.

And his message is clear: “Don’t bottle it up. There are lots of people out there who feel like you but help and support is available. Just pick up the phone.”

It was, after all, a phone – and a reminder about choir practice – that saved his own life.