Rescued from the abyss
DAVID Abrahams knows first hand the mental health benefits of the Men's Shed program - after all, he's personally witnessed it save someone's life.
The Men's Shed program invites men from a wide variety of backgrounds and circumstances to come along to a workshop where they have the opportunity to talk to other men and learn (or teach others) trade skills such as carpentry.
The idea is to give men an opportunity to make connections while doing something practical and learning new skills.
Mr Abrahams is one of the Grafton Men's Shed founding members. He said an experience with a deeply troubled man a few years ago proved beyond a doubt the program's potential to pull someone back from the abyss of depression.
"About five years ago a chap came along - he was a diabetic, he smoked like a chimney and you couldn't get a word out of him. He was just very morose.
"So he came and joined us here at the shed and within three months he'd given up smoking and you couldn't shut him up.
"They told us when he first came here he was suicidal, but he ended up staying here with us for three years."
Mr Abrahams said the man - who he preferred not to name - went through ups and downs in his time at the shed but said no matter how bad things got, he would always turn up again.
"Eventually the diabetes caught up with him and he was hospitalised for about three days. He got out of hospital on the Tuesday and he came into the shed first thing Wednesday morning, that's how keen he was," he said.
"Sadly he died the following weekend from medical complications but we believe the shed gave him another three years of life and his family said the same thing to us."
Mr Abrahams said the camaraderie, the fellowship and the practical work available at Men's Sheds could work wonders for men coping with loneliness, grief, depression and boredom.
The former head of the Australian Men's Shed Association, Mort Shearer, will today deliver a seminar to a Psychology Colloquium at Southern Cross University's Coffs Harbour Campus on the benefits of the Men's Shed program in reducing suicide rates in men.
Mr Shearer said because many men feel compelled to "put on a brave face", they often failed to talk to others about their problems, especially to families.
"Men also tend to get their social connections either from their work or from their female partner's group. But if the family breaks up, their partner dies, or men retire or are made redundant, they often become isolated because men are not good social animals," Mr Shearer said.
"Isolation very often leads to depression and mental health issues. And sometimes that leads to the slippery slope of suicide."
He said Men's Sheds gave its members purpose, the opportunity to learn new skills, forge new friendships and talk more openly about their problems.
Mr Abrahams said anyone interested in joining the Grafton Men's Shed was more than welcome to come along and check it out. It is at the old Grafton brewery complex and is open from 8am-3pm each Wednesday.