Help for men 'struggling with life' and at risk of suicide

By Chris Wood
BBC News

Media caption,
'After going blind, I broke down and said I need help'

After suddenly going blind, Stephen Ricketts thought his life had ended and was on the verge of killing himself.

He could not do simple tasks such as cook - mistaking tinned peaches for beans and trying to eat them on toast.

But four years later, he has started a bowls club for the blind and wants to help others finding life difficult.

Mr Ricketts is the focus of an exhibition aiming to help the 75,000 older people in Wales who are lonely and at risk of taking their lives.

"I had been through depression, alcohol, suicidal thoughts," said the 53-year-old from Llanelli about his battle with age-related macular degeneration.

"You think your life has ended, but it hasn't."

The exhibition about "men struggling with life" came about after photographer Ray Hobbs visited a Men's Shed in Ferryside while documenting the community.

There are about 460 sheds in the UK - mainly in disused garages and warehouses where men come together to chat, drink tea and be creative.

"Many (of the men) were struggling with life. There were some intense stories and this was something I had not bargained for," Mr Hobbs said.

"And they were lonely for a wide variety of reasons. One guy's wife had died and he could go a week without talking to anyone.

"There was another who had a wife, beautiful house. But he was retired and missed the camaraderie."

Image source, Ray Hobbs
Image caption,
The exhibition called From Sofa to Shed includes shots of items people use to invoke feelings of happiness - such as photographs of grandchildren

The photographs document their journey from depression to finding new meaning in life through groups such as Men's Sheds.

Charity Campaign to End Loneliness said 17% of people in Wales were lonely and 54% experienced some sort of lonely feelings.

While a spokeswoman said it is hard to directly link loneliness to suicide, she pointed to studies showing how low social interaction was predictive of it in older age.

Director Sam Dick said the impact was "enormous", adding: "We cannot underestimate the effect of human connection on physical and mental health.

"Loneliness is as bad for health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and contributes to depression and anxiety.

"Being able to feel part of a community, like a bowling club or at a Men's Shed, is a key part of wellbeing."

Much of the charity's work in Wales is focused on Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire.

The local authority areas make up one of the poorest regions in northern Europe and it is looking at the "numerous and complex" links between poverty and loneliness.

"Two of the main sectors are tourism and agriculture, which are seasonal and particularly in the case of farming, solitary," added Mr Dick.

Image source, Ray Hobbs
Image caption,
As well as focusing on Mr Ricketts, the exhibition looks at men in a variety of settings, including at home on their computers

Age Cymru is supporting Mr Hobbs's plans to raise awareness of loneliness by taking his exhibition around Wales.

"Older people may become isolated in later life for a number of reasons such as retirement, bereavement, ill health, and a lack of local services or transport," said the organisation's Michael Phillips.

"While others choose to miss out on socialising because even small financial costs are beyond them.

"This means that some older people barely leave their home, resulting in chronic loneliness and a subsequent deterioration in their physical and mental health."

Mr Phillips called this "a daily reality" for 75,000 older people in Wales.

Image caption,
Ray Hobbs found social settings such as Men's Sheds were not simply a place to be creative but were lifelines to many for meeting others