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Minding Your Mental Health: Men’s Sheds - a structure and a social connection

Men’s Sheds -  a structure and a social connection

The newly built extension at Naas Men's Shed

A nationwide report produced in May on behalf of the Irish Men’s Sheds Association (IMSA) by Aisling McGrath, a postgraduate researcher, examined the impact of Covid-19 on shed members.
Among its findings was the fact that many members were concerned about the void left by not having a shed to go to during the pandemic.
This does not surprise me. The great success story of the men’s shed movement is the way it can give a meaning and structure to men’s daily lives when they retire.
I’ve seen it every week - in both myself and others - since I retired four years ago: the social connection, the challenge to do new meaningful work without pressure, the contact with other sheds and organisations, including national and government organisations.
I have to admit that when I first visited Dundalk Men’s Shed, I thought: ‘this is not for me’.
I was a reporter with the Dundalk Democrat and wondering how I was going to occupy my time when I retired. I was fearful of those empty days that were fast approaching.
I retired about eight months later, just before Christmas, and at the beginning of January I went down to Seatown and joined Dundalk Men’s Shed.
I decided to give it a go. And I’ve never looked back.
What I realised when I joined is that it was up to me to make it work. And this is the key factor.
A popular view of men’s sheds is that they are limited to certain activities and are basically for skilled craftsmen or people who are good at physical, practical work.
Of course it caters for those people. But it also creates an environment where people can learn new skills, new crafts, and do so at their own pace and in their own way.
This, combined with a social atmosphere, fills that void that people face on retirement.
That void, that anxiety, is the chief danger to the mental health of retired people.
And this is where the men’s shed comes in. It fills that void, gives a structure to the day, while maintaining the freedom of the individual to choose what they want to do and when they want to attend.
When I joined Dundalk Men’s Shed I walked in with my laptop and wondered how a journalist was going to fit in here.
I didn’t have to worry. Shed people don’t waste an opportunity. They found me a job: shed info, press releases, funding applications, courses, more courses, trip announcements - where, when and why. They didn’t miss a trick. And I didn’t miss work. I was busier than ever.
I learned to develop a real sense of humour too – like most people I had thought I had one all my life.
I soon realised why the whole thing works.
We are not aware that we have mental health. We are only aware when we don’t have it.
I went on to become vice-chairman, chairman, and now secretary of Dundalk Men’s Shed.
What I noticed in that time is that you don’t stop and observe people’s mental health in the same way that you don’t stop and observe life. You live it, you get on with it.
The shed does not exist to deal with mental health problems but it certainly can help avoid them.
During lockdown we kept in touch by phone, WhatsApp, Zoom.
It was hard, as it was for everybody in the country.
But we did what we always do. We asked how people were. We enquired about them. You can’t help everyone.
But the shed movement is one of the best organisations I have ever seen at keeping people from thinking of the phrase mental health simply because usually their mental health is in such a good state they don’t have to think about it.

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