A Men’s Shed is a place where senior men can come together and work with their hands, improving emotional health. Photo courtesy of Doug Mackie

Cure for men’s loneliness? Take ‘em to the shed

  • July 8, 2022

Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County is targeting loneliness, isolation and depression in senior men through an innovative program that improves their mental health and well-being.

Last month Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County (CFSSC) hosted a Men’s Sheds information session and is in the early stages of birthing the first location in the region. The community-based program allows men to come together to learn, share skills and make long-lasting friendships while improving emotional health and wellbeing.

The Men’s Sheds model has found the secret to getting through to even the most closed off is often putting them to working with their hands. It’s also a way of creating opportunities for skilled seniors to give back to the community.

Through activities such as woodworking, games or building garden beds for a worthy cause, Jenna Wickens, mature minds coordinator at CFSSC, says the program creates an environment where men can feel comfortable and find the connection and purpose they are longing for.

“We’ve all experienced loneliness at various points and what we found with older adults is that they had great concern for other people’s (wellness) but not for themselves,” said Wickens, whose role is funded by ShareLife and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

“One of the things I love about Men’s Sheds is they provide a sense of purpose. If we sat a group of men in a circle and asked them how they’re feeling, you might hear crickets. But if you put a lawnmower in the middle of them and ask them to fix it, then they would talk about the things that were on their mind while they work.”

CFSSC was put on to the program after beginning parish outreach to seniors suffering from loneliness. With mental health still largely a taboo topic in the elder demographic, many senior men have been suffering in silence, says Wickens. Since men tend to define themselves by their occupation and socialize within work settings, they often find themselves feeling lost after the novelty of retirement wears off.

A global movement, Men’s Sheds began in Australia in the 1980s and has expanded into Canada, the U.S., Ireland and elsewhere. Doug Mackie founded the first Canadian shed (group) in 2011 in Winnipeg and has watched it expand across Canada. 

Mackie, who turns 82 this month, worked as a travel agent, financial advisor and was an avid volunteer with various organizations. He had never heard of the Men’s Sheds concept until 2008 when he was nearing retirement at age 68 and he received a timely phone call from his daughter Lisa, who suggested he start one.

Mackie says in most cases it’s the women in men’s lives that recommend they join a shed.

“Men rarely refer other men,” said Mackie. “It’s their spouse saying, ‘Why don’t you go and do something?’ It’s the daughter that cares about her dad. That’s what happened with Lisa telling me to do this. … It’s also starting to grow through social prescribing. Instead of prescribing pharmaceuticals such as anti-depressants, doctors, occupational therapists and nurses are referring men to Men’s Sheds.”

John Peters, who has taken the Men’s Shed mantle in Ontario, was at the CFSSC event via Zoom where he shared the principles for building a shed from the ground up. Each shed is unique to a region and starts by building genuine connection and community within a small group of men.

Drawing more than a handful of men, the early stages of the Barrie shed looks very promising, says Wickens. 

“We appreciate opportunities that we can support men’s mental health by providing and partnering with some of these programs that are doing such great work around the world,” said Wickens. “It’s such a huge win just to see men coming together. We’re grateful that we’ve seen the men come out and we’ll see where it goes. We’re hopeful and we have a bright view of what the future could look like for Men’s Sheds in Barrie and Simcoe County.”

Last modified on July 12, 2022

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