Mental health check: Vernon Men's Shed tackles the subtle issues retirement brings - InfoNews

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Mental health check: Vernon Men's Shed tackles the subtle issues retirement brings

Vernon Men's Shed members Bruce Klein and Lyle Enns
November 16, 2019 - 6:00 AM

Gathered in a makeshift shop, surrounded by tools and a layer of sawdust that covers every surface, a group of roughly 20 retired men talk craft fairs, quality control and marketing.

It's part business meeting without the suits, part catching up over coffee, and more importantly, it's good for their mental health.

The members of Men's Shed Vernon are mostly in their 60s and 70s and drink coffee while collaborating in the conversation about how they could improve performance at their next craft fair.

While the men may be talking business, the underlying reason for the shop, the group meeting, and the conversation about craft fairs are all part of a bigger picture.

"We build meaning and well being into men's lives by engaging men's hearts and minds," Ray Verlage says when asked what Men's Shed does.

Men's Shed meeting.
Men's Shed meeting.

Men's Shed Vernon was formed in early 2017 by Verlage, David Friesen and Lyle Enns, part of an organization originally started in Australia after a few men got together in a shed to collaborate on a project. Australia now has 2,000 branches and the Men's Shed organization also exists in the U.S., U.K. and a handful of other countries. There's currently eight in B.C. with 15 more looking to open.

Verlage said men often find themselves isolated after retirement and after 40 or more years in the working world often don't transition well into life after work.

"So much of (a man's) self-worth is based on their life's work," Friesen said. "We're trying to get all the accolades we can for doing the best job we can, and all of a sudden it stops."

A lot of men then slowly and quietly become more and more isolated greatly affecting their mental health.

One member said he joined the club because his own father had "climbed into a bottle and died."

While organizations do exist for men and women, generally it's only women who attend. The way men make friends with each other is different.

Men engage each other by working, over time conversations get deeper and richer, Verlage said.

"Some guys always retire hoping they could get a shop and the worst thing that could happen is they're alone all the time," Verlage said.

A number of members have better-equipped workspaces at home but still come to the Men's Shed.

"I enjoy my own company... but in the long run you're doing it by yourself, you're not sharing anything," Enns said.

After running his own company all his life, and being actively involved in sailing, squash and golf, Enns said he still wanted something that would be a challenge.

To-do list.
To-do list.

The Men's Shed members work together on three different kinds of projects: making items for other non-profits, making items to sell, and building things for themselves. So far the group has been making wooden rocking horses, benches, letters for signs and a host of other craft fair type goods.

Running it as a "bottom-up" organization members utilize the skills they have.

"I'm not a tool guy," Verlage says who retired from a career in sales.

However, over the course of seven months, he and 20 other members built a wooden sailboat.

"I had no chance of building a sailboat," he says adding, "it sails like a dream."

The theme of camaraderie is echoed by everyone chatting in the shop.

Gerry Johnston retired 15 years ago after a career in telecoms. He says he joined because he was "bored" and had "itchy feet."

"I like to get up in the morning and have something to do," he says. "I think it's healthy mentally."

Again, Johnston talks about the comradery and says once you're older you don't have to prove yourself.

His comments are apparent as the meeting continues and ideas come forward from other members in a collaborative manner.

Some of the group's creations.
Some of the group's creations.

With the demographics of retired men growing at 18 per cent, the Shed has hopes for the future. Pooling their knowledge and skills they've drawn up a five-year plan which would see them in a dedicated facility five days a week.

Verlage says although not widely discussed, men's health is a "boiling issue under the surface." And men are notoriously difficult to reach.

Men's Shed Vernon partnered with the city's branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association who welcomed the idea and is currently run from a donated site at Elephant Storage.

So why do so many men appear to struggle at retirement?

"A lot of guys didn't think about the end and start building the transition for what's coming next," Verlage said.

While many of the members at the Shed have busy and active lives the hole that retirement can leave is often difficult to fill even for those who had it planned out.

At 65 years old Verlage retired "unexpectedly" five years ago.

"Sometimes business events or health don't necessarily follow your magic plan," he said. "I had expectations and working towards having some mix in my life and then things accelerated and there you sit at 60 in an oil patch that's going the wrong way."

Another member moved to the Okanagan to be near his children but found out his children had their own lives which he didn't need to be in every day. They said they were getting tired of watching Netflix.

Other aspects play into as well, as couples downsize and move into an apartment, men often lose their shop or other workspaces.

"Now he's got no shop and no friends and then he's in trouble," Verlage said.

And Verlage has a theory for why this issue seems to affect men differently than women.

"We're all islands, we've been 'the provider,' the world is changing around us, (and) we are not those guys anymore," he said.

Men's Shed Vernon meets Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information go here.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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