COVID-19: Men's sheds do their best to combat isolation for men

MENS SHED: The Mount Pleasant Men's Shed has instituted strict limitations of members visiting the shed due to COVID-19. Photo taken in 2018: Michelle O'Rielly
MENS SHED: The Mount Pleasant Men's Shed has instituted strict limitations of members visiting the shed due to COVID-19. Photo taken in 2018: Michelle O'Rielly

Australia's peak body for men's health has warned of the dangers to older males as self-isolation from COVID-19 further limits contact within already isolated regional communities.

Many Men's Sheds, which provide social and practical outlets for many men across South Australia's regions, have been forced to close or drastically limit member usage.

Mt Pleasant Men's Shed is one of the few remaining open and are operating under strict conditions including that a maximum of three members use the shed at a time.

Chairperson Murray Henderson, himself currently self-quarantining after his son returned from London last week, said the mental health impacts of the virus on their members was an important consideration.

"It's men sitting around having a coffee and just talking and that's no longer happening and we used to have film nights and that's not happening either," he said.

"None of those sort of social things are happening.

"However, we're all in the age group where we are most vulnerable (to COVID-19) so we have to be careful of that."

To combat the isolation, the Mt Pleasant shed members have initiated a phone tree where their members each call two other members, just to check up on one another.

They also plan to create a Facebook page and take advantage of Men's Shed Australia's online forum - which is still in development.

Men's Sheds are co-operating internationally to run sheds online; support services like Dads In Distress are developing virtual groups and men's mental health projects like Mr Perfect are using Facebook and other social media platforms to keep men connected.

Australian Men's Health Forum CEO Glen Poole said that with support services like men's sheds closing their doors, older men risk becoming more isolated.

"Research shows men are less likely to have strong social networks than women, though this has been changing steadily with hundreds of local men's groups launching in recent years,"

"Most of these groups have had to closed in the past fortnight because of coronavirus, leaving men at risk of suicide more socially isolated."

Older men in poor health, men who lose their jobs and livelihood and men with fewer social connections have been identified as being at particular risk of suicide.

According to ABS statistics, suicide killed 3,046 people in Australia in 2018. Men accounted for 2,320 (76.2%) of these suicides while 726 suicides were female (23.8%).

Australian Men's Health Forum called for government support to help get the men's health sector online.

If you or someone you know needs support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24 hours), or SMS 0477 13 11 14 (6pm - 10pm). You can also contact your GP and other support services including Headspace and Beyond Blue.