Making friends can protect your health

construction-work-carpenter-toolsAlongside other significant factors, social support is one of the social determinants of health; a good social network can be a protective factor that helps to maintain both good mental and physical health –  for example the support we receive from family and  friends when going through stressful life events. For men whose social networks are often more limited than that of women, particularly following retirement, this is especially important.  The camaraderie experience of Men’s Sheds provides a working  example of non-intrusive  ‘health by stealth’ support, where men are enabled to work through or openly discuss their concerns and issues in a supportive, non-judgemental, and male-friendly setting.

The Shed movement – a movement that started in Australia and is now growing in other countries including Ireland and the UK,  also provides us with an example of a salutogenic approach to men’s health that is useful  in addressing concerns related to the  social determinants of health. A salutogenic approach to men’s health is one that doesn’t concentrate on what is bad about men (men are competitive, aggressive, macho – deficient in some manner), but rather on what can be done to enhance health such as improving boys education, providing secure employment, making social connections and developing male friendly services. Men’s Sheds fit the latter two examples, providing both opportunities for making good friendships and an example of how a male-friendly service can work. Practical illustration of the benefits of good  friendships  – and in the context of Men’s Sheds can be found in this article by Dan Jones – Good friends are good for you.

Men’s Sheds are largely independent organisations reliant on accessing often small amounts of local  funding, the goodwill of the members, local community and businesses, and often a just a few organisers with the drive to maintain and grow their Sheds. It can be difficult and exasperating at times  trying to explain what a Men’s Shed is, especially living in the UK  – and more importantly what a Men’s Shed can do in terms of benefits to its members, and also the wider community in terms of creating supportive friendships, providing community services and as places where health can both be maintained and where resilience can be fostered – enabling individuals to flourish. Health work should be more than just about preventative messages about not smoking, what you should eat, and wearing condoms – that’s part of preventative health work, but a salutogenic approach should also be about addressing the social determinants of health and building capacity for both individuals and communities. Men’s Sheds are a working example of a salutogenic approach to health that should be supported and provided in every community. Long may they continue.

For further information on Men’s Sheds in the UK and your local Men’s Shed take a look at the UK Men’s Shed’s Association website.