Men's groups are playing a key role in addressing depression and the alarming rate of suicide among older men.
Spokesmen for Men’s Sheds said it was not uncommon for members to tell them a shed had saved their lives and had given them a reason to get up in the morning. This was echoed by Ian McDougall, founder of the Blokes Lounge, who said groups like his alleviated social isolation among men, a key trigger for depression.
Their comments follow statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and MindFrame from the Hunter Institute of Technology, which show the suicide rate per capita was alarmingly high among those 85 years and older.
The rate is 37.6 male suicides per 100,000 people compared to 20.6 suicide males in the 20-24-year age group and 29.9 males in the 40-44-year age group.
Malcolm Weier of the Qld Men’s Shed Association, said he could tell of men who had said they would be dead if they did not attend a Men’s Shed.
“Men’s Sheds are exceptional for men’s mental, social and emotional wellbeing,” he said. “They provide a place for men to talk about their problems to each other. It’s unusual for men to talk to each other about their problems.
“We see plenty of men who come to the shed, lonely and depressed. They’re seeking the company of other men because they were in the company in men in their normal jobs.”
Mr Weier speaks at universities, city councils and others about the vital role of Men’s Sheds in reducing social isolation, depression and subsequent suicide risk among men.
“People have this misconception that men just do traditional woodwork at Men’s Sheds but each shed is run independently and chooses its own activities,” he said.
Groups such as the Bloke’s Lounge have been founded to promote social interaction in men over the age of 50.
He said members were also encouraged to take part in shed exercise programs, visits to local swimming pools and learn deep breathing techniques.
“Most of the guys at Men’s Sheds are retired and aged 60-plus but we have a guy at our shed who is 18 and in a wheelchair. His primary carer is 19 and our oldest bloke is 90,” Mr Meier said.
Mr McDougall, of the Bloke’s Lounge, said the group was founded for men over the age of 50 so that they could make new mates, which helped reduce the growing issue of social isolation.
“By getting involved, many blokes have come out of their shells and I’ve watched them shake off the blues through increased physical activity and becoming mentally engaged with other men,” he said.
Mr McDougall said unemployment was a major cause of loneliness among men.
“It’s more difficult to find work in this age group than it was a few years ago and dislocation from the work force can lead to risky activity such as gambling, drinking or drugs,” he warned.
“Other factors are divorce, loss of a partner, lack of mobility and reliance on carers, as well as a loss of personal space as a result of downsizing or moving in to retirement towers.”
“The Gold Coast is 50km long and it’s a hard place to meet people and make friends,” he said.
“The Lounge has developed into a great collection of blokes from different personal, ethnic, work, spiritual and geographical backgrounds.
“These men have with different opinions, get on well together, make few demands, enjoy socialising, offer help and assistance and are forming strong friendships through shared activities.”