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Tinkering in the shed helps reduce male suicide rate


Sharlene King
24 April 2012
A space for men to tinker with tools is helping to stem the incidence of male suicide says Mort Shearer, the former head of the Australian Men's Shed Association, who will give a seminar at Southern Cross University’s Coffs Harbour campus on Friday April 27.

Mort Shearer will speak on the topic ‘Observations and Learnings from Time Spent Volunteering in Men’s Sheds and Suicide Prevention’ at a Psychology Colloquium at 3.30pm on Friday April 27 in the Coffs Harbour campus Lecture Hall D350, with video links to Lecture Hall P158 at the Lismore campus and A223 at the Gold Coast campus.

Psychology Colloquia are research seminars delivered at the Coffs Harbour campus by visiting academics, University staff members and PhD students. Colloquia are free of charge and open to students, staff and the public.

"Men don't talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder while doing other things,” said Mr Shearer who stepped down as the inaugural national president of the Australian Men’s Shed Association president in November. He is now the director of the Hastings Men’s Shed at Port Macquarie.

“The sheds are good for men because they offer activities and purpose in the company of other men.”

Mr Shearer said he believes men are culturally and traditionally compelled to be the breadwinner and provide for their 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.

“Isolation very often leads to depression and mental health issues. And sometimes that leads to the slippery slope of suicide.”

Mr Shearer, 70, is a businessman who retired to Port Macquarie some 10 years ago. Since then he has been working in a voluntary capacity primarily in Men’s Sheds and Suicide Prevention.

Thanks to his business skills Mr Shearer initially became heavily involved in developing a model for community-based Suicide Prevention Networks and started a number of these Networks in NSW before turning his attention to Men’s Sheds as a practical way of attacking the issue. Mr Shearer has no formal health training, but he received strong support and mentoring from a range of health professionals and leading academics, like Southern Cross University’s Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan, Professor John Macdonald of the University of Western Sydney and Associate Professor Barry Golding from Ballarat University.

Associate Professor van der Zwan praised Mr Shearer’s grassroots approach.

“Mort is one of the most amazing men I ever have met. His commitment to the community, to promoting general awareness of mental health issues in the community, and to men's awareness of the issues particularly is steely,” he said.

“Mort is committed to the idea that discussions about mental health should be part of normal discourse. He, quite rightly, is working hard towards making a reality the aspiration that our community engages with mental health issues as they currently engage with issues around heart disease or breast cancer or whatever; with courage and without stigma.”

Mr Shearer’s seminar will outline how innovative and low-key approaches like Men’s Shed and Suicide Prevention Networks can achieve results.

“These activities are low cost and have the additional advantage of increasing the sense of community, which in itself is a type of protective factor, and helping to build community capacity and resilience.

“The Men’s Shed initiative not only rescues men when they go downhill and start to isolate themselves but they do great community work, like handiwork and repairs.

“These community initiatives offer real benefits but more research, volunteers and resources are needed to improve their approach and to realise their potential.”

Mr Shearer’s next focus is young people. Port Macquarie has been selected as the site of a new Headspace centre, a national youth mental health foundation aimed at 12 to 25 year olds, and Mr Shearer is part of a syndicate aiming to secure the tender.
Photo: Mort Shearer. Event: Mort Shearer’s ‘Observations and Learnings from Time Spent Volunteering in Men’s Sheds and Suicide Prevention’ is at 3.30pm on Friday April 27 in the Coffs Harbour campus Lecture Hall D350, with video links to Lecture Hall P158 at the Lismore campus A223 at the Gold Coast campus. This event is free of charge and open to the SCU staff, students and the public.