Page 3563 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 12 September 2017

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else. Sunday was World Suicide Prevention Day and Thursday this week is R U OK? Day. These movements and national and international days highlight the need for people to speak up when they need help. So it is timely to talk about a movement such as the men’s shed today.

Research has shown that relationship breakdowns, bereavement, loss of access to children following a divorce or other relationship breakdown, and physical or mental illness are just some of the problems that men may find difficult to deal with on their own. Studies have linked social isolation and loneliness to physical health symptoms, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and depression. ABS 2015 data shows that Australian men aged over 85 have the highest suicide rate in Australia, at 39.3 per 100,000 people. In comparison, women in that age group had a suicide rate of 5.7 per 100,000. That is 39.3 compared to 5.7 in 100,000—alarming statistics. The next highest age-specific suicide rate for men was in the 45 to 49, 40 to 44 and 50 to 54-year-age groups, with rates of 31.5, 30.6 and 30.5 per 100,000 respectively. Again, alarming and disturbing statistics.

Organisations who work in this space, such as Sane Australia, the Australian General Practice Network, beyondblue, Menslink and, of course, the Australian Men’s Shed Association, all state that men still do not naturally talk about their physical, social or mental health. One research study that I looked at determined that men should physically meet with four friends two times a week in order to reap the benefits of male friendship. I am sure we all know people who do not have that level of engagement twice a week, meeting with four male friends. The benefits of strong male friendships include a stronger immune system, the release of endorphins, an overall decrease in anxiety levels and, apparently, even higher levels of generosity. This research goes so far as to recommend that guys “do stuff” while they socialise, and that is exactly what the men’s shed movement is about.

In the words of Professor Barry Golding, a men’s shed researcher from the Federation University, Ballarat:

Men don’t talk face to face. They talk shoulder to shoulder.

The men’s shed movement builds on that approach. While they are standing shoulder to shoulder at a lathe or building toys for children to sell at a fete, men raise issues, often slowly and haltingly at first. They are not looking eye to eye; they are sharing a physical activity, and this facilitates a more natural exchange of information between them. It is not as confronting to those men as looking someone in the face and confessing your deepest, darkest, innermost secrets, which is difficult for many of us to do at any time.

Ms Cheyne: Not me; it’s all on the table.

MS LAWDER: Okay, maybe not for everyone, but if you have been brought up in that way that you have to be strong and always appear to be in control and to be the solutions person in a relationship, it can be difficult to admit that you are struggling.

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