Men’s Shed moves forward following positive start
Member’s of Camrose’s Men’s Shed meet outside the Camrose and District Centennial Museum on Thursdays from 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. The group is a place for men of any age to join. Photo supplied
Growing out of the Movember movement has been a second wave of activism concerning men’s health, this one stopping to talk about men and their mental health.
After gaining in popularity in Movember’s home of Australia, groups known as Men’s Sheds have spread, becoming vastly popular in Ireland and now cropping up in Canadian centres like Halifax, Winnipeg, Camrose and Kelowna.
A Men’s Shed is described as a safe space where men, typically semi-retired or retired, meet on a regular basis to take part in agreed upon activities such as woodwork.
While the efforts in Ireland and Australia have been grassroots led, the versions in Canada have the input of the University of Manitoba behind them. After receiving a grant from Movember Canada last year, the team of researchers designed a toolkit that was handed out to the participating groups.
James Urquhart, a research assistant from the university, has been doing evaluations on the Men’s Sheds and visited Camrose June 18 to see how the local project has been moving along since it’s formal inception a few months before.
“I would say it’s our most successful pilot, in terms of the number of guys that have been recruited to a new shed,” he said of the group of 14 who meet every Thursday at the Old Timer’s Hut at the Camrose and District Centennial Museum.
Urquhart noted that Men’s Sheds in Canada are often run through existing groups, such as the Camrose and District Support Services (CDSS), while the one in Halifax is run through Spencer House.
“What we’re seeing is that potentially because of the way health systems are set up here in Canada, it might actually be something unique to Canada that benefits us to target Men’s Sheds in that way because…in order to get money you have to go through a group that already has something established, so we’re thinking the fastest way to grow Men’s Sheds may be through that model and that’s part of the pilot testing for Camrose in particular.”
Including the CDSS in the Men’s Shed has allowed Clarence Hastings, CDSS rural community director, to be involved with the process, and give mental health support right from the beginning.
However, Urquhart said he’s not sure if having mental health professionals involved is the way to move on with future Men’s Sheds, saying “it’s a complex issue”, but acknowledging that there are advantages to having someone come in with knowledge of mental health.
“Something it runs in the face of, though, is how Men’s Sheds developed elsewhere. It’s not about the mental health piece, the mental health piece just happens as a result. We’re still kind of feeling out with our toolkit, how open do we want to be about that mental health piece, do we want to scare some guys away, because there are a lot of guys out there who don’t see mental health as a problem and that’s a huge problem.”
While the attitude towards mental health and acknowledging men’s emotional well being is becoming less of a social taboo, there are certain generations of men who have believed that men are to be stoic and not discuss what may be going on.
“Especially guys in that cohort are socialized to say, ‘I’m a tough guy, I can take care of myself. I don’t have a mental health issue, I just push through it,’” said Urquhart, adding that finding a balance is key, especially when it comes to finding funding in Canada.
Hastings noted he believes that starting the shed with connections to a social worker has been beneficial and supportive for the men who have gotten involved.
“In a sense, there’s no opportunities for guys, whoever they may be, to approach organizations or even share that kind of information or even just go about doing that. Now having some of that information to even make a call, to contact Allan (Thompson, volunteer coordinator), or call me or just to have those kinds of questions.”
He added that the Albertan government has also started to take a closer look at ways to engage men and boys in service programs, especially as there has never been a model before in regards to sharing information.
“And when I think about Men’s Sheds, I don’t think just about men, I think there’s an opportunity for some intergenerational programming pieces or activities,” he added, saying that the group has discussed a Grandpa Day, bringing together the members of the group with grandchildren or “adopted grandchildren” for a day of activities.
The pilot program taking place in Camrose gives a subtle nod to worrying stats that Hastings presented, such as the fact East Central Alberta has the highest rate of completed suicide among men 49 and older in the province.
Urquhart’s team is part of a five team national network that polled 1,000 participants across Canada, almost equally men and women, and he said that the results from the men spoke to how important projects such as the Men’s Sheds are.
“We just got some scary numbers with regards to the mental health literacy, the suicide literacy, the ability to seek help, the ability to know where to seek help; especially in that younger generation, the statistics were atrocious,” he said. “I think, overall, the network, there’s definitely a push to inform guys, especially younger guys with regards to suicide, depression, mental health, and that it’s really a normal thing that everyone deals with at one point or another. Everyone feels isolated at one point in time, a lot of people feel depressed, [it’s] very normal to feel suicidal ideations as well.”
“In my area, there’s a term: deft in the head. Hopefully I’m part of what changes that,” said Thompson.
Men’s Sheds aims to increase the ease of “making sure that the people within your circle recognize that there’s changes going on with you,” said Hastings. “Especially with a guy hearing it from other guys is a lot different than hearing it from a woman. And that’s just a reality piece. So we can talk shoulder to shoulder and say, ‘I’ve noticed something’s been going on with you,’ instead of, ‘Come into my office.’”
“Stuff comes out when you’re working shoulder to shoulder,” agreed Urquhart. “It’s almost like you’re not conscious of what you’re saying because you’re doing something.”
The group has started doing activities, including a trip to the Nature Conservatory and a fishing trip, things that have appealed to new members. One of the things the toolkits promotes is independence for the men to choose their activities, and a more definitive set of activities and plans is the next step.
“The idea that guys, unless we’re following a schedule somewhere, or a schedule is set for us, it’s kind of hard for us process what we’re doing. Otherwise we end up doing nothing,” said Clarence, chuckling.
While Hastings has had a hand in the project thus far, he has made Thompson the first point of contact for anyone with questions, stressing that he wants the project to stay as grassroots as possible and he will be handing the reins completely over to the members.
Retired farmers moving into town after spending decades on the farm, spending long hours every week working with suddenly nothing to do, was one example of the at risk men who would potentially find the group beneficial.
As the project has moved forward at a rapid pace, Urquhart said that there are steps being taken to create a national network for the sheds, with a website in the works to be operational by November.
“There’d be a forum there for men to talk about developing men’s sheds, challenges, talk to other guys who’ve started Men’s Sheds. There’d be a map on it where Men’s Sheds are in Canada,” he said of the website. There are also plans to make the toolkit more widely available across Canada once its trial has finished.
The Men’s Shed meets Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Old Timer’s Hut at the Camrose and District Centennial Museum. For more information, contact Allan Thompson at 1-780-608-0605. A new website has also been released with information targeted towards younger men at www.headsupguys.ca.