A former Royal Navy serviceman who credits the help of mental health support groups for saving his life has launched his own organisation to fill a crucial gap in current provision.

Father-of-two Shane Knox has battled depression throughout his adult life, with his darkest times triggered by his struggles to adapt to civvy street after a career in the forces.

Life turned a corner when he found help from local support groups that met during the day, but once Shane returned to work, he found it difficult to find people to turn to in the evening.

That’s why he decided to create Not a Statistic North East, a Community Interest Company providing a safe space after office hours that welcomes anyone wanting to share their worries, make connections, get advice and have some laughs along the way.

The friendly group currently meets weekly in Sunderland and Shane plans to extend sessions to Washington, Durham and Houghton-le-Spring by the end of the year.

He said: “I turned to a support group when I was utterly burned out and having suicidal thoughts. At the time, I believed everyone would be better off without me here, but the support I received helped me to see differently and genuinely saved my life.

“I’m very open about how low I became in the hope that others feeling this way don’t feel alone in that. I want to use my experience to reach more people in need of peace and confidence.

“Connection to others in life is everything. Even when things are going well, it can be such a boost to get together with others so our groups are places of positivity and laughter, as well as care and compassion.”

Shane, a support worker for a local mental health trust, developed his idea for a peer-to-peer support group after signing up to Veterans RV – a 12-week project run by the North East BIC to help veterans explore their business ideas.

He worked alongside 16 other veterans to channel their unique set of skills and experience into becoming successful entrepreneurs. Nine new businesses are now in the making.

Shane said: “The programme was the best thing I’ve done in a very long time. I knew I was going to set up the business but I had no idea how to do it sensibly.

“The mentoring, support and advice were massively helpful and it was all completely free. It gave me the confidence to build a business plan and think about all kinds of things to manage and sustain the organisation. It really opened my eyes and made things feels possible.

“It was also great to come across other likeminded veterans and to spark ideas with each other. We’ve created our own informal group so we can stay in touch as things develop. It feels great to be doing something so positive and I’m really excited about the future.”

The BIC’s Business Adviser and former soldier Anthony McDermott helped design and run the programme. “Working with Shane and witnessing his transformation throughout the programme has been incredibly rewarding,” he said.

“Seeing him progress from uncertainty to confidence in his entrepreneurial journey has reaffirmed the value of structured support systems. Collaborating with fellow veterans has not only generated a sense of camaraderie but also sparked innovation and idea-sharing.

“Shane’s testimonial highlights the significant impact of mentorship and the success that the programme created will hopefully continue to flourish around the region. We all wish Shane well and look forward to seeing how his business progresses.”