Men’s Health Week originated in the United States in 1992 and became international in 2002. Each country identifies their own theme. In the UK, the intention of Men’s Health Week has been for men and boys to get access to the relevant information, services and/or treatment that they may need to live healthier, longer and more fulfilling lives. But what is it that exemplifies being a man?
Changing image of a man
Watching re-runs of various shows on television, it becomes obvious that in recent decades, the definition of what it means to be ‘a man’ has shifted.
In the 1970s and ’80s, there were the ultra-muscled bodies in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Hulk Hogan in films and television, and He-man in toys. All of these have been slowly replaced, first by the male characters in Friends and Men Behaving Badly, and then replaced again by the more aggressive expression of masculinity personified by influencers such as Ant Middleton.
Social habits are changing
About the same time, classic social haunts of the working man’s club, the local pub, the concept of going for a drink with work mates after a shift, and the notion that ‘real men don’t cry’, are now passé for most people in their late thirties and early forties.
As radical and confusing as this cultural shift has been to witness, it is easy to forget that such confusion does have a real-world impact on the man in the street. This has led to a string of interventions and actions, some from the medical profession, some from the grass roots in communities.
Dealing with stress
It is acknowledged that human beings do need breaks and rest from activities, and the NHS supports sporting distractions or time away from sources of stress. Some NHS Trusts are promoting talking groups and social prescribing to find local support. Some also offer short-term gym sessions when linked to some health conditions.
Supportive role of the Men’s Shed Movement
Another increasingly popular activity stems from taking part in a ‘Men’s Shed’, where people can take part in some useful craft activity, making or repairing things. It may sound like a cross between James May’s ‘The Reassembler’ and The Great Egg Race or Scrap Heap Challenge, but there is more to it than just popping into a garden shed with a screwdriver – preferably the non-alcoholic kind!
Firstly, the sheds themselves are rarely, if at all, sheds as we know them. They tend to be in larger buildings, such as the former forge in Cambridge and the former mortuary in Essex. Some are mixed with both men and women members, whilst some are not, with women-only sheds now emerging in the same style as their male counterparts.
This may seem rather simple. However, according to Chris Lee, founder member of ‘The Repair Shed’ in Hemel Hempstead, and a former trustee of the United Kingdom Men’s Shed Association (UKMSA), there is more to it than just having enough space and access to the right tools; a number of myths need to be dispelled.
Chris explains: “The grassroots, bottom-up development of a Shed is cheaper and potentially more sustainable because it’s tailored to the needs/wants of the members, also known as ‘Shedders’. No pressure to be active. If someone wants to turn up, drink tea and chat, or not chat, for a couple of hours, then go home, that’s fine. A Shed is about bringing people together for mutual support and fun; the purposeful activity is a bonus that adds to the experience, attraction, sense of individual and group achievement.”
Getting men engaged in their health
For many years, there have been campaigns to highlight, and get engagement from men, about conditions such as mental health, depression, prostate cancer and heart disease. Chris feels places like a ‘Shed’ can help, by either holding a talk on a subject or by getting people to discuss things that maybe are taboo elsewhere.
“We say that Sheds are about ‘health by stealth’. We don’t want Shed sessions to feel like therapy sessions as this can be off-putting for people. We take people as they are and they can share as much, or as little, about their personal situation as they like. Traditionally Sheds are for people who are ‘time-rich’ but many busy people find it fills a hole in their lives!”
Chris continued: “A well-known saying from the Men’s Sheds movement is: “Men talk shoulder to shoulder, not face-to-face. If, or when, Shedders feel comfortable, they can talk about the sorts of things that older men traditionally don’t – personal health, relationships, feelings and concerns.”
As Sheds are independent charities, they fundraise through various means, including selling some of the items that are made. It is not just about someone showing off the skills they have acquired from a lifetime of work, it is also about taking time to take part in a purposeful activity, which can be either making something, or just having a chat.
Nothing better than a cup of tea and a chat
With pressures building in life, from the cost-of-living crisis to the increase in interest rates and the ongoing concerns over jobs, many people find themselves cutting back. This not only concerns their outgoings, but also the things that help them to relax. In times like these, it is easy to see why the notion of a sit down with a cup of tea and having a chat, before fixing something, can be far more appealing than any TV box set collection.