Here’s the latest article from the JournalWatch service of The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA, looking at the Men’s Shed movement in Australia and beyond, including a field trip by Dr Melissa Stoneham to her local Men’s Shed.

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Dr Melissa Stoneham writes:

Recently Clare Shann, Deputy CEO of Beyondblue said “All Australian boys need a shed; a place where he can go, somewhere to clear his head…”

Clearly this statement rings true, as we have over 700 Men’s Sheds around the country, with some stating that there are 4 new sheds each week.

So why is this movement so popular and what gets discussed in there? Is it like the Freemasons – with the secret handshake and the rolled-up trouser leg on initiation? What are these blokes doing in these sheds and why do we need them?

According to Reinie Cordier from the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Molecular Sciences at James Cook University who recently published in the International Journal of Health Promotion, the Men’s Shed movement plays an important role in addressing the gendered health disparity that males face. Dr Cordier’s article titled Community-based Men’s Sheds: promoting male health, wellbeing and social inclusion in an international context, aimed to gather information about Men’s Sheds, including the people who attend them, the activities held and their social and health dimensions.

Most know that males don’t live as long as women and it seems they are dying from non-communicable and preventable diseases, such as coronary arterial disease, lung cancer and heart diseases. We also know that these diseases are associated with poor health-promoting behaviours such as smoking, excess alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and poor diet.

Cordier explains that some of the reasons men experience poorer health can be linked to some males not seeking help, an attitude of self-reliance and decreased health literacy. Originally, Men’s Sheds were established to provide support to men who had experienced mental health issues, problems with the transition to retirement or a lack of social interaction. Yet, Cordier highlights in the article, that a recent narrative review on Men’s Sheds highlighted a limited body of research about how Men’s Sheds can contribute to wider health and social policy.

To address this gap, the authors contacted 757 Men’s Sheds across the globe. They quizzed them on operational structures, location and other information, the number of members and the type of activities they facilitated as well as health and social activities. A total of 324 (42.8%) sheds completed the electronic survey in full.

So what did they find?

Interestingly, over 80% of the sheds targeted vulnerable communities, includingmen who were socially excluded, elderly or experienced mental health issues.There was greater emphasis at international sheds in supporting people who were unemployed, particularly in Ireland. Over 80% of Australian sheds and almost 70% of international sheds engaged in community volunteering activities. Regional sheds were more likely to undertake this community based volunteering role.  Many invited guest speakers to the sheds, to discuss specialist topics with 42% of Australian sheds having invited a health professional in the past 12 months. This study identified that the promotion of men’s health and wellbeing is a core activity of many Men’s Sheds.

To validate this for myself, I recently visited my local Men’s Shed. As I gingerly poked my head around the corner of a solid looking shed, I saw a group of men chatting happily and repairing a couple of old bikes. They told me they were going to give them to the local school to raffle off amongst the students. There were some old computers in a thousand pieces and a range of woodworking tools my dad, as an ex manual arts teacher, would have been proud to call his own.

The men were tinkering, chatting and most importantly, smiling. I asked around to see who was there – we had an ex university lecturer, a couple of retired teachers, some younger blokes who were currently looking for work and a retired policeman – among others.

One elderly man told me the shed brought harmony back into his marriage, and he would certainly have been divorced if he had not have found it! Another man described the shed as the ‘pub with no beer’. The uniting of skills and experience was clear – I was completely satisfied that this little ‘village’ of men was a safe environment and was promoting social capital through old fashioned mateship.

With over 220 sheds across Ireland, 80 across the UK and one even in Alaska, this Australian based ‘blokes and sheds’ movement which recognises our backyard shed as an integral part of the Australian culture, certainly has made and will continue to make positive impacts on men’s health.

Article: Community-based Men’s Sheds: promoting male health, wellbeing and social inclusion in an international context.ReinieCordier and Nathan Wilson; Health Promotion International; 2014; 29(3):483-93

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About JournalWatch

The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA) JournalWatch service reviews 10 key public health journals on a monthly basis, providing a précis of articles that highlight key public health and advocacy related findings, with an emphasis on findings that can be readily translated into policy or practice.

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PHAIWA is an independent public health voice based within Curtin University, with a range of funding partners. The Institute aims to raise the public profile and understanding of public health, develop local networks and create a statewide umbrella organisation capable of influencing public health policy and political agendas. Visit our website at www.phaiwa.org.au

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