John Evoy knows what it’s like to feel isolated. During his late 20s he spent most of his time alone – living and working on a farm with his grandmother. He wasn’t diagnosed with depression, but he knew something wasn’t right. “I definitely can empathize with a lot of the guys who might be going through something similar,” he said.

From his own experiences, Evoy saw the need for change. This led him to found the Irish Men’s Sheds Association. The concept of a men’s shed is simple – it is any community-based organization where men come together to work on projects in their own time and in the company of other men.

The first Irish men’s shed opened in August 2009. Today there are more than 270 sheds across Ireland and Northern Ireland. Sheds began in 1998 in Sydney, Australia. Now there are over 1,000 men’s sheds in Australia and approximately 1,500 worldwide.

Last May Evoy attended the Men’s Health Research conference in Winnipeg to share his thoughts about men’s mental health, and the growth of men’s sheds in Canada. Evoy said the sheds help men connect, and in many cases reconnect, with a community.

Building these connections helps promote positive health and mental health. This is crucial for men because they are three to four times more likely than women to die by suicide. And depression, which is a factor in about 90 per cent of suicides, is the second leading cause of disability worldwide.

Men helping men

Evoy said he’s seen many men with low self-confidence and self-worth become empowered through their time at the sheds. “Their voice is worth something again,” he said. “You begin to see them get involved in other community initiatives and it really can start the ball rolling on the growth of their self-esteem.” What separates sheds from other men’s groups is the hands-on activities. Evoy said when men start working side-by-side they are more willing to open up about their lives and their struggles. He said the program can save lives.

Evoy chose to create the Irish Men’s Shed Association because it was a model that was scalable and sustainable. “I firmly believe that when we become aware of a solution to some of society’s problems, then we also have a moral obligation to try and scale that solution,” said Evoy. “So, if you know something in Vancouver works with guys, and helps save lives, wouldn’t it be very important to try and get that message out to every community in Canada and probably every community in the world?”

To learn about men’s sheds in Canada visit Men’s Health Research. To learn more about Evoy’s organization visit the Irish Men’s Sheds Association.