During what is Loneliness Awareness Week and Men’s Health Week we are focusing on the effect of loneliness on men’s mental health. Across Northern Ireland, a sizeable number of older people are impacted by loneliness and this can lead to serious health issues, if not addressed.
Loneliness can have a significant impact on people’s mental health and can in fact hasten death by up to 30% among some risk groups. The study, ‘Social Isolation, Loneliness and Health Among Older Adults’ by Caitlin Coyle and Elizabeth Dugan found that loneliness was associated with higher odds of having a mental health problem, while isolation was associated with higher odds of reporting one’s health as being fair or poor.
With the risk groups including older men, Action Mental Health’s three Men’s Sheds play a pivotal role in lessening the effects of loneliness. The Men’s Sheds bring men aged 50+ together to share skills, socialise and connect with their wider community, while working on practical activities of their choice.
The Men’s Sheds, in AMH New Horizons in Antrim, Fermanagh and Downpatrick, are places to have a laugh, make new friends with other men over 50.
You can find out more about our Men’s Sheds by clicking here:
The effects of loneliness
Raymond Kerr was so lonely after his wife died he was ‘climbing the walls’.
The 74-year-old could barely face getting out of bed in the morning as everything he did at home only served to magnify the fact that he was alone.
Even going to get the groceries and buying food-for-one reinforced his feelings of utter isolation and desolation, and soon, depression.
Raymond lost his wife Lola three years ago, but unlike many in his situation, he didn’t have hordes of visiting mourners to keep him afloat before the loneliness set in – he was alone from day one.
The pensioner did find solace in his only child with whom he has forged a better relationship since his wife’s death. However, the demands of his son’s work and own family life meant their regular visits could take place just once a week.
Raymond was also loathe to burden his son with his growing feelings of depression when the younger man was grieving for a mother he had shared a very close bond with all his life.
Aside from that, and the occasional visit by social workers, Raymond lived a solitary life, day in, day out. He admits that this isolation was partly a symptom of his somewhat reserved nature, but also because he lives many miles from his surviving family connections and friends in his native Castlecaulfield, Co Tyrone.
“I was very lonely from day one after my wife died,” he explains. “My wife knew a lot of people but I was more of a loner so when she died I didn’t see many people.
“When I woke up in the morning I felt really bad. I felt very down and I didn’t want to trouble anyone with how I was feeling.
“It put me off my food and I was living on one meal a day. I didn’t feel like cooking just for myself and you can never really buy something in the grocery shop that’s just for one person. So I went with the bare minimum – just potatoes and butter and egg.
“I was feeling depressed, and even when you’re separated or divorced you can always still call the person and have a voice on the other end of the phone but when your wife has died there’s no one there.”
He did eventually begin to talk however, and told his doctor how he was feeling.
“The doctor was great actually because she knew me. She was very easy to talk to and I could tell her anything, so she really helped in that way.”
Raymond was ultimately saved from his depressing world of loneliness by the intervention of social services.
“My doctor sent social workers out to me and one of them told me about the Men’s Sheds,” he says.
The Men’s Sheds, his local one located at Action Mental Health’s New Horizons Antrim, has opened up a new life and one that is filled with company – the company of men who know exactly what life is like for an older widower.
Nowadays, he spends his time participating in arts and crafts, particularly enjoying fine art and painting. Cutting his teeth in the art of leather work he counts himself among ‘the three stooges’, along with two new friends who are in much the same domestic boat as Raymond.
“I’d never heard of the Men’s Shed before and though I was a bit apprehensive about going and wanted to leave a few times, I really enjoyed it and they made me feel very welcome.
“I’d felt unwanted before but the men joked that if I didn’t show up they’d come to my house and get me,” he says. “So I’ve no option and I’ve never stopped going.”
“It’s very interesting and the girl in charge asks what you’d like to do and she’ll even bring in an expert to teach us all how to do new things so I’ve actually made a few belts now,” he adds.
“I’ve made new friendships and the banter and craic is great and makes the day go quickly.”
If you’re feeling low, contact your GP, as Raymond did, or if you’re in crisis contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. Please always remember that help and support is available.