New research into the impact of Men’s Sheds on men’s health has highlighted the value of making programs for blokes male friendly.
The authors call on policymakers and practitioners to find novel ways to co-exist and work in partnership with organisations like Sheds to ensure a wide reach when planning male health interventions for those with and without existing health conditions.
Men’s sheds as an alternative healthcare route? A qualitative study of the impact of Men’s sheds on users’ health improvement behaviours, was published by @BioMedCentral (BMC) in the UK on March 20.
Authors Danielle Kelly, Artur Steiner, Helen Mason and Simon Teasdale point out that men’s health outcomes are ‘globally problematic and an underrepresented area of public health literature and policy.’
They acknowledge that men experience more illness and injury than women, have a lower life expectancy, are more likely to engage in risky behaviours, have a poorer diet and are less likely to access formal healthcare or engage in health improvement behaviours.
Often classified as a hard-to-reach group for preventative healthcare, the authors champion the value of targeting men in their communities.
Started in Australia in the 1990s, Men’s Sheds create a space for men to engage in positive health behaviours ‘in an informal and accessible environment.’
The study sets out to establish exactly how Sheds impact the health behaviours and attitudes of users, interviewing 62 men from five Sheds in Scotland.
The majority of men who took part were over 60 and retired and they were asked if and how their behaviours and attitudes to their own health had shifted as a result of attending a Shed.
40 Shedders reported having an existing illness or injury that had been identified by a health professional, however they said taking part in practical Shed activities like carpentry, helped them relax and switch off.
The Shed provided a distraction from painful conditions and increased feelings of strength and resilience. Others reported that taking part in physical activities increased their capacity for movement and helped them manage symptoms associated with conditions like arthritis or trauma injuries.
Some Shed members had organised educational health talks on male-specific health problems such as prostate and testicular cancer, which triggered others in the group to examine their own health-seeking behaviours.
Some members decreased their use of alcohol and tobacco, motivated by their desire to take part in Shed activities that required physical exertion. Others placed more value on social connection, and being able to work on projects side-by-side, or shoulder-to-shoulder.
The safe space of the Shed enabled them to open up about health concerns.
Said one participant:
‘In a drinking club, it’s not discussed. At a dart’s club, things are not discussed. Here, you could if you wanted to, open up and you’d grab somebody and tell them what struggles you have and I think everybody here would give you a bit of help, guidance or support.’
And another …
‘I come in here and I talk to some of the other guys in here, and see they’re still going with things that are 10 times worse than mine, and it kind of changes your viewpoint.’
The researchers developed a logic model to show how Shed activities and culture led to the health improvement of Shedders.
‘It demonstrates some of the unexpected and non-obvious ways in which activities can have positive health outcomes. For example, men may attend a Shed simply to partake in practical activities, however, this may also lead to unexpected improvements in their ability to cope with adversity,’ say the authors.
‘Such visualisations are important to inform policymakers and practitioners of the ways in which initiatives like Sheds, that are not directly delivering a health service, can contribute to engaging men in health improvement practices and increase their health knowledge.
'This logic model also provides a structure from which further studies can measure and evaluate Shed health impacts.'
The researchers conclude by saying future research could use validated health tools to measure changes in the health of Shed users after continued involvement in activities, especially those with diagnosed health conditions.
‘This empirical study has shown that Shed activities can help members with reported diagnosed health conditions to feel as though they can overcome illness and adversity, and promote those without existing health issues to engage in preventative health improvement measures.
‘The creation of an inclusive and supportive ‘safe space’ where men feel relaxed and willing to discuss health problems is key to this process.
‘The ‘Shed model’ is found to cater particularly well for those reluctant to engage with more formal public healthcare services, especially for mental health concerns.
‘The informal and flexible nature of Sheds means that their activities can be tailored to the specific needs of these individuals, unlike more structured formal state alternatives.
‘What this study also shows is that men can effectively access professional health advice through educational talks from health visitors, without having to leave their ‘safe’ Shed environment.’