Sharing at 'The Shed'
This week, John Manning reports on the visit of local counsellor, Paula Hughes to Balbriggan's Men's Shed to talk about positive mental health
Proving that the Men's Shed movement is about more than learning how to use a chisel to fashion something useful out of a piece of wood, Balbriggan's Men Shed hosted a moving and uplifting event last week that saw a local counsellor and psychiatrist visit 'The Shed' to facilitate a conversation between shed members about mental health and how being part of Men's Shed has had a hugely positive impact on their own state of mind.
Spend any time down at the secluded and cosy shed at the back of St Peter and Paul's Church in Balbriggan where the shed members regularly meet to work on their arts and crafts projects, and you are struck by the warmth of the place, the welcome on the mat for anyone who wants to visit and the sense of camaraderie and brotherhood between its members.
That was the warm and welcoming atmosphere that Paula Hughes stepped into last week as she came to visit shed members to encourage them to open up about their own mental health and talk about what the Men's Shed has done and continues to do, for their state of mind and sense of well-being.
Paula comes from nearby Balrothery and has worked locally as a counsellor and psychotherapist and explained how the idea for this event came about. She told the Fingal Independent: 'My husband helps out with the Men's Shed and I suppose we both have a big interest in community. There is something very positive about giving back. The community gives a lot to people and if you can at all give something back, it is nice to be able to do so.
'I approached Sean Corrigan and said I had this idea for a talk and what I'd like to do is really facilitate a conversation. Rather than me just standing here and delivering a talk, I'd like to hear what these guys feel about mental health themselves and just facilitate a conversation that way. I put it to Sean and he thought it was a good idea and that's how today came about.'
Paula added: 'People are more and more interested in, and willing to talk about mental health and I suppose what I'm interested in is the difference between mental health and mental ill-health because I think, a lot of the time, when we mention mental health, people think of mental illness. I'd like people to think about their mental health in the same way they would go to gym to improve their physical fitness and ask what they can do to improve their mental fitness. People often don't understand the resources they have available to do that and the Men's Shed is a fabulous resource for that. People get to engage with other people here and foster relationships. You talk about mindfulness and here, people get to make stuff, use their hands in a creative process and that is mindfulness in action.'
Asked what she hoped to achieve in the conversation, Paula said: 'I'm actually coming in here without too much expectations. I'm coming in with a lot of curiosity and who knows what we will find.'
Before the discussion began, member of the Men's Shed since its inception in Balbriggan, Con Lawlor told the Fingal Independent about his hopes for the event.
Con said: 'The reaction to this happening was very positive. Men don't talk to each other - they tend to clam up a bit and maybe they are a bit proud to share some of the issues they might be going through and fight through it all themselves. But the whole thing about it is, a talk like this can often refresh things and maybe make people think twice and if they have some underlying issues maybe they will talk about it and other people may have had the same experience and be able to help.'
He added: 'We have had members here who have had depression issues over the years and having somewhere to go that gets them out of the house and gets them involved in something and talking to people, helps. For the company alone, it is a well worthwhile experience for them.'
Con told the Fingal Independent: 'Many of the people here live alone and this gets them out of the house and gives them something to do and a bit of fulfilment and satisfaction.'
As the discussion opened, many of the benefits of the Men's Shed mentioned by Con were echoed by the other 'shedders' who were reserved to begin with but as time went on, gradually opened up about their thoughts on mental health and what being part of 'The Shed' and the sense of brotherhood that came with that membership, has done for their own state of mind.
The members talked about experiences both direct and indirect with grief, depression and loneliness and to a man, they credited getting involved with the Men's Shed with boosting their own sense of mental health and well-being.
One member summed the feeling of the room up when he said: 'It has been a revelation to be a member here and all I can see for me is upwards and outwards from now on.'
And the brotherhood evident in the room from the good-natured ribbing the members gave each other to the open-hearted sharing of their own mental health issues was summed up by another member who said: 'It's like I've known these guys all my life.'
Each member of the group left the talk armed with a bookmark distributed by Paula that gives five simple steps towards protecting your mental health that encourage you to connect with other people, be active, take notice of the wonderful things around you and within you, keep learning and give back to your community.
Looking through the five steps and listening to the men's stories and what they gain from being at the Men's Shed, it was clear to Paula that these men are already taking the action she recommends to build positive mental health.
Speaking after the event, Paula reflected on how the talk went and told the Fingal Independent: 'I was really delighted with it. People were really, really generous with their comments, with their sharing and being honest and open about things that maybe happened in their past and using that to help other people and say 'you can get through it' - not diminishing it but acknowledging it and saying: 'We are here to help you get through it.'
'There use of humour is really amazing. When things get a little bit tough, there's a bit of slagging and they make it ok for each other again - it was lovely. There's a great feeling of camaraderie among them.'
The Men's Shed in Balbriggan began as an idea in Sean Corrigan's head, who along with Cllr Tony Murphy and others, set about bringing this nationwide movement to the north Fingal town.
Sean is a leading light in the local Chamber of Commerce and a former bank manager in Balbriggan and as well as instigating the Men's Shed in the town, he's a regular and active member of 'The Shed' himself.
Explaining his motivation for establishing the group, Sean told the Fingal Independent: 'I had the realisation I was maturing myself and the time had come when my own kids had moved off and I was looking a bit towards the future.
'When I read up on the Men's Shed, I just got it - it made sense.'
Sean said he never warmed to the game of golf and was not going to spend his retirement on the fairways of north County Dublin. Skilled with his hands and with a fondness for making things, Sean has his own workshop but now prefers to work among the group of craftsmen and friends he finds down at 'The Shed'.
He explained: 'I would do more hours down here than I would ever do in my own workshop because the craic is here and there's someone to hold a piece of wood for you if you need it and the ideas develop here.'
Explaining why the group extended the invitation for Paula to visit the Men's Shed, he said: 'Paula had the idea for this talk and it just made sense to me. We were always about a lot more than just making things.
'I think it went very well. These things are always difficult to get going and it's a difficult subject to talk about but more and more people are willing to reach out now and more people are being seen to reach out. To have someone like Paula to come along here is fantastic and it really opened us up.'