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Men at high-risk of social isolation can boost their mental health by engaging in their community, suggests new study

  • Investigation into men at high-risk of social isolation reveals that engaging in their community improves their mental health and wellbeing
  • Step-by-Step initiative intends to improve mental and physical health through newly-developed Men’s Shed model
  • Project has launched 50 Sheds across UK and northern Europe in attempt tackle high rates of suicide among men across continent

 

MEN at a high-risk of social isolation and loneliness can boost their mental health and wellbeing by engaging in meaningful community activities, a new report suggests.

Research between the University of Chichester and government and community organisations, who are jointly investigating high rates of suicide among males in Europe, showed that undertaking skills-based activities in particular has significant benefits.

The collaborative Step-by-Step project was launched in 2017 to improve the mental and physical health of men – deemed at risk of social isolation – through engaging with others in similar situations. It is specifically concerned with helping those in the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, following a European Commission report showed that men account for 77 per cent of all suicides in the continent.

The project has revised the popular Men’s Sheds concept, which originated in 1970s Australia, to promote interaction and provide a space for retired men to learn skills and socialise. The new SBS model was co-created by community members and leaders, integrating healthcare with peer-support and skills training.

Principle researcher Dr Ruth Lowry said: “The health of men is widely recognised as falling below that of women, whom are twice as likely to receive a mental health diagnosis. This is confounded by men’s hesitance to seek professional help, with women twice as likely to visit a doctor.

“This project is already making a real difference to men, whether socially-isolated or suffering poor mental or physical health. The Men’s Shed model is highly transferable in this country and beyond and will empower individuals to re-engage with society and employment.”

Men account for 77 per cent of all suicides in the EU, according to the European Commission

 

Woodwork skills and language tuition are popular Shed activities 

As many as 50 new sheds have already been built in the UK and Europe, attracting Shedders of all ages and backgrounds.

Most Sheds promote mental and physical health and wellbeing through teaching new skills – with woodwork the most popular activity, followed by cooking, learning languages, or playing sports.

According to the report, more than 58 per cent of members, known as Shedders, joined the initiative for more social opportunities with other people in their community. More than half of those interviewed reported improvements to their mental health and lower rates of loneliness.

Overcoming isolation was a common theme from the participants, and one Shedder added: “It’s helped me with my depression. Probably once upon a time, if I was going to go somewhere and I was feeling particularly depressed, I probably would have thought ‘I don’t feel well enough to face other people’. But [at the Shed] I’ve gone, so it’s made me realise I’ve got a commitment to them.”

Sheds have continued to support members throughout the Covid-19 pandemic: Shedders have met for virtual activities and new initiatives have been established to help living in isolation. The impact of the pandemic will be explored in the ongoing evaluation of the project, with Shed leaders needing to think flexibly about how they continue to operate and plan activities. 

Health and wellbeing specialist Andy Wood, from the University of Chichester, leads the day-to-day evaluation of the project and is assessing the impact of workshops on participants’ mental and physical health, as well as their wellbeing.

Speaking of the impact of the pandemic, he said: “Many of the Sheds have navigated Covid-19 restrictions by moving sessions online, which has enabled members to continue socialising and benefiting mentally. The UK’s Centre for Mental Health recently predicted that almost a fifth of the population will need mental health support as a direct consequence of Covid-19, so we are ensuring the project remains accessible for all, to continue supporting those in need.”

The Step-by-Step project, which is led by the Health and Europe Centre, aims to engage 6,000 men across its four-year lifecycle, with 600 of them going on to gain employment.

Funding comes from the EU’s Interreg social innovation fund to address health concerns among men in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It is delivered in the UK by Hampshire and Kent county councils and evaluated by the University of Chichester.

For more about the Step by Step project go to www.chi.ac.uk/sbs. Alternatively email the University of Chichester team at sbsproject@chi.ac.uk or read updates at www.twitter.com/SBS_project_Chi.