A GLOVED fist smashes out from a white canvas. But the hand, enclosed in a red boxing glove, isn’t trying to land a punch - it’s reaching out.

The artwork is one of several paintings that will be displayed in the Brunel Shopping Centre this week as part of the Men’s Mental Health Swindon campaign - a council-backed drive to get more men talking about their wellbeing.

The knockout piece is the work of 33-year-old Swindon man Ashley, a service user at town centre-based charity IPSUM.

He said of the artwork: “It’s asking why are we waiting until our backs are against the ropes to reach out? He’s not punching - he’s putting his arm out.”

For Ashley, things came to a head when he suffered a mental breakdown. He lost his relationship and his home: “I went into a dark spiral and finally decided to reach out for help.”

That was a brave step: “When you were at school you were bullied if you were dyslexic. I never looked for help because I didn’t want to be part of a group where you were bullied.”

He was referred to IPSUM by Swindon Mind, the mental health charity. Now, he finds support in the calm environment of the art room: “I’m living my life day-to-day, getting out. Before, I would have been in my house and not coming out. Now, it’s totally the opposite.”

Fellow artist Paul, 48, twice tried to take his own life before he was referred to IPSUM by the NHS crisis team.

“I lost two of my closest friends. Then, shortly after, I lost my job - then a 20 year relationship. There were problems with the kids.

“I just blew a fuse. I tried to commit suicide several times,” he said.

After one attempt to take his own life, Paul was taken to hospital. Doctors told him the overdose had caused him to have suffer a heart attack. The fluids and medication they were pumping into him were saving his life.

“I pulled everything out, all the cannulas, and ran home from the hospital, hoping it would kill me.”

He praised IPSUM: “They made me feel so welcome here. Coming here and doing my art was the only thing that completely distracted my mind.”

Fellow painter Craig, 46, concurred: “The art allows me to concentrate on something else, distracting my brain from the negative thoughts.”

IPSUM director Julie Mattinson said the Milton Road service was seeing more and more men coming through their doors.

It had changed in just four years. When the charity opened in 2015, the balance was tilted more towards women.

Julie said: “I have seen a lot more men start to access our services.

“I don’t know where it started, but things started to shift when princes William and Harry began taking about mental health. I think it started to get talked about more.”

The charity is supporting the Men's Mental Health Swindon campaign, which aims to get more men speaking about their wellbeing.

All this week, IPSUM service users' artworks can be seen hanging in shops on the first floor of the Brunel shopping centre.

And today, Wednesday, May 15, 1.30pm to 3.30pm, the charity is hosting an open art and music session at its offices.

For more, visit: www.mmhswindon.co.uk.