The Men’s Shed initiative: Building fellowship and nailing mental health stigma

The+Aldgate+Men%27s+Shed+Group+members+with+visiting+MP+Rebekah+Sharkie.

By Rebekha Sharkie/Facebook

The Aldgate Men’s Shed Group members with visiting MP Rebekah Sharkie.

The ear-splitting sounds of drilling, sanding and nailing echoes through the car park on Wednesday morning as members the Aldgate Men’s Shed work on their projects.

Founded in 1999, the Aldgate Men’s Shed has been assisting the local Adelaide Hills community for 21 years. It is the sixth oldest shed in Australia.

The Australian Men’s Shed Association was officially founded in 2007 and is based in Newcastle, New South Wales. It funds over 1200 sheds across Australia.

The website states, “Most men have learned from our culture that they don’t talk about feelings and emotions; many do not take an interest in their own health and well-being”.

“Unlike women, most men are reluctant to talk about their emotions and that means that they usually don’t ask for help.”

“Probably because of this, many men are less healthy than women, drink more, take more risks and suffer more from isolation, loneliness and depression.”

Not only does this initiative help men in need, it is helping break down the stigmas around men’s mental health.

Psychologist of 40 years, Sue Barr, said this has been ingrained in our society for generations.

“There’s a saying, ‘Man up’,” she said.

“I think it starts from the gender stereotyping that have been placed on men for example don’t show your emotions, ‘boys don’t cry’, expectations placed on being successful…job,family.being masculine means you don’t express your feelings, and so on.”

If men retire, lose a loved one or just want some company and to feel useful, they can join a shed nearby.

According to the Australian Men’s Shed Association, “Good health is based on many factors including feeling good about yourself, being productive, contributing to your community, connecting with friends and maintaining an active body and mind”.

“Becoming a member of a Men’s Shed provides a safe and busy environment where men can find many of these things in an atmosphere of old-fashioned mateship. And, importantly, there is no pressure. Men can just come and have a yarn and a cuppa if that is all they’re looking for,” the website states.

Founding member of Aldgate Men’s Shed Tony Hanbrook said since opening the shed, membership has grown exponentially, so much so, the group is now building an extension on its current shed.

Tony said the shed gives men who need help a sense of purpose. “iI they aren’t feeling 100 per cent they can come in and spend time, have a cup of tea,” he said.

Tony said he benefits greatly from the shed also.

“It gives me a focus and something to do,” he said.

Exuding pride as he showed me around the workshop, Tony explained: “We’ve helped quite a few men”.

Tony certainly looks at home in the shed, providing directions, overseeing activities and partaking in the banter. Along the walls are pictures, newspaper clippings and memorabilia of the past 21 years.

Sue Barr said mental health, especially for men can be an extremely difficult topic to talk about and having a support system is vital.

“It is critical,” she said.

“Not feeling supported can lead to feeling isolated, which can lead to further anxiety and depression.

“Friendship is crucial and is a protective factor.

“A trusted person who will talk and listen and help put things into perspective is essential for everyone.

“People with mental health issues can often expect rejection from other people because of the stigma that is associated with mental health.

“They can then avoid social contact.

“It is important that they have a network of people who they feel will support them and respect them for who they are.”

Clem is another Aldgate Men’s Shed member.

“I believe it’s helped a lot of people,” he said.

“All of our clientele now is people over 65 or late 50s, if they can’t find their job or [are] having trouble getting another job.

“[There are] lots of different reasons men come.

“Someone may not be able to feel his left leg, or someone has had a nervous breakdown.”

“The Men’s Shed initiative provides a ‘safe’ mateship environment whereby men can work on projects together that often results in a positive outcome for other community members or for the broader community,“ Sue Barr said.

“This provides a sense of purpose for both the individual and the group.

“The ‘space’ allows for open dialogue and supportive and trusted fellowship where members can know that everyone is accepted, they can feel comfortable in discussing issues, and know that they will be listened to.

“It is an environment where members know that there will be no judgement placed on them, and no expectations or pressure put on them to achieve.

“Members join for a variety of different reasons, but often it’s due to a change in circumstance, for example loss of spouse, retirement, moving to a new area… these factors can lead to isolation which can have an impact on mental health.

“The Men’s Shed provides an environment that acknowledges isolation and addresses this through the purposeful projects and through the ability to freely come and go without any forced structure to attendance.”

Clem agreed, saying opening the doors to everyone has been a rewarding experience.

“It has had a positive impact on all the people I’ve dealt with,” he said.

“We even had some kids 25-30 years old who were having trouble handling life.

“They came, got their confidence back and moved on.

“I think the biggest thing I can see people get out of the shed is the feeling of doing something and working.”

Shed members are involved in many projects, including repairing items brought in by community members and creating boxes for condiments for the nearby business in Stirling, the Organic Market and Cafe.

One of the biggest fundraisers for the shed is selling bags of kindling.

The kindling is made from donated pallets and other wood which members break down, remove nails from and cut into small pieces. Brian was in charge of removing nails from the wood and told me with a smile: “We make cakes out of the leftover wood chippings you know”.

They then bag it into five or more kilogram bags and sell it for eight dollars per bag. The Organic Market and Cafe sells the kindling free of charge.

Tony said the success of the Men’s Shed is testament to the supportive and generous Adelaide Hills community.

The Aldgate Men’s Shed is open from 9:30am to noon every Monday and Wednesday.