It is not often we see a new organisation started up to look after the needs of men or men recognising the importance of developing friendships, sharing knowledge and skills and becoming productive and valuable in their community. All of this in a happy, welcoming environment where no pressure is exerted and filling in spare time with others who are willing to share. This new organisation which has now almost 300 units and 6,000 participants is called “The Men’s Shed”. The CEO for Ireland is John Evoy and was founded in Ireland in 2009 and is in most towns including CountyTipperary, a vibrant one in Thurles, where men are doing something very meaningful with their lives.
One time men had plenty of places that were considered “men only” places, like the pub where they could meet up with friends and have a chat, the workplace, clubs or even football and hurling terraces. All of these places, up until the 70’s were the exclusive meeting places where men could congregate and talk freely about their own interests and enjoy leisure time in male environments. When women’s liberation demanded equal rights and started to infiltrate the male domain, some men felt their space usurped and old traditions died.
A new study carried out by the Samaritan’s has revealed startling figures that are shocking. The study found that men who are unemployed, especially the longterm unemployed, are 10 times more likely to die by suicide, and state this is because they have lost their masculine identity and pride. In Ireland last year 525 people ended their own life, 84% of them men. This is roughly 9 men every single week dying by suicide. With these figures in mind, places like the Mens Shed is a valuable service and is both controlled and open to men where they can talk, develop companionship, share their problems and generally feel that they are not isolated and alone. These were some of the neccessary factors highlighted in the research as beneficial to good mental health.
When men feel they are not meeting standards of power over their lives and feel that their role as breadwinner is inadequate, they feel a sense of shame and guilt which leads to suicidal thoughts. With an unemployment rate of 17.8% for men and the changing nature of the labour market, it is inevitable that we see more and more men living lives feeling hopeless and feeling abandoned by governments and society. Over the last 40 years the changes in the labour market has changed for unskilled men, but as men are generally reluctant to talk about their problems or seek help, even to go to a doctor, not enough has been done to overcome the problem that we have today in our country. Governments have not yet arrived at a conclusion that suicide should be treated as a health and social problem and in spite of many interested parties involved in the prevention of suicide, men appear to fall between the stools.
There are three aspects which have been recognised as mens problems;
- a sense of not belonging, of being alone
- a sense of not contributing, of being a burden,
- not being afraid to die, seeing suicide as an option.
Men have always invested so much in their work that when they lose their jobs or retire, they feel worthless and unable to contribute. That is just one step to feeling a burden on those they love. Men also put less effort into developing and maintaining friendships, so feel more alone.
Mens health and life span also add to the problems that men endure. Men live shorter lives than women and if they have health problems do not seek help at an early stage when a diagnosis could be valuable and the problem fixed.
If men can get the support to get through the times they feel disconnected or a burden on others, social supports can turn things around and a comforting word can change how one feels at this point.
Committed or working on community projects are all positive actions that men can do and the Mens Shed movement offer these types of services that allow men to meet and sit and talk or share their skills.
When men feel they are contributing to their community it increases self esteem, self belief and gives a boost to their well-being. All of these things change lives that are seeking fulfilment and a raising of the spirits. Men need support and understanding and their peers allow them the space to discuss issues that encourage sharing of problems and difficulties and bring a new aspect to lives that may be dis-jointed and vulnerable.