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Issue Four:
The Shed Mount Druitt

The Shed was established in 2004 as a partnership between Western Sydney University, the Men’s Health Information and Resource Centre (MHIRC) and the Holy Family Church at Mount Druitt. It is currently funded by WentWest Primary Health Network (PHN). The Shed concept arose from a deep concern with the high rates of suicide in the area, especially among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. Research shows that men are four times more likely to complete suicide due to the lack of services that cater to men, as well as their reduced help-seeking behaviours compared to women (Guntuku, 2020). Further risk factors such as disconnection from culture, isolation from community, low socio-economic conditions in the area, severe mental health issues and lack of stable housing also contribute to suicidal behaviour or ideation. In response, The Shed offers a platform for a range of supports to come together and service the members of the Mount Druitt community, with supports such as counselling, legal advice, and physical health services. They also provide a hearty lunch one day a week and a place to connect and talk with others with similar cultural background and lived experience. 

“… listening to the life story of a person, including their aspirations and needs, is important for healing and service provision. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are likely to share their stories, after the service providers develop trust and rapport.” Gibson, Crockett, Dudgeon, Bernoth & Lincoln (2020)

The Shed embeds culture into as much of their work as they can, including practices such as yarning. Community members have learned over the years that The Shed is a trusted and welcoming place to connect with other people from their community over a meal and a yarn. The Shed recognises that yarning circles help to improve social connection, process grief and trauma, and share knowledge with other members of the community. In The Shed’s almost 20 years of operation, they have seen men arrive with no other support around them and living with the expectation that men were not allowed to feel sad or depressed, for fear of being seen as weak (Smith, Merlino, Christie, et al., 2020). Their approach of yarning among others in their local community enables the staff from The Shed to stand alongside them, advocate on their behalf when needed, and connect them to “personalised, local and culturally appropriate services at no cost” (Guntuku, 2020). In short, The Shed gives men the opportunity to get the help they need based on their own way of coping with mental health crises. They are able to do so using styles of communication and connection that resonate with them, and in an environment where they are encouraged to be their authentic selves in their identity and role within their mob. 

The Shed’s grassroots approach is another way that the families and communities in Mount Druitt are supported in their recovery journey. Over 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families access the services at The Shed every week and receive support for family law issues, and mental and physical health issues. The Shed partners with over 20 organisations including NSW Health (Aboriginal Health Hub) and Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) as well as Yenu Allowah Aboriginal Child & Family Centre, Western Sydney University, housing providers, podiatry and occupational therapy to deliver support to these community members. The Shed has become an essential link between the community members who access the services of The Shed, and the local services who may be inaccessible to them for various reasons. This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families experiencing homelessness, young mothers at risk of losing their children, and men carrying the lived experience of being part of the Stolen Generation. Community members feel much more comfortable coming to The Shed than to other services in the area, because of the unique role that The Shed plays in the community. The Shed is selective in the services they partner with, as they want community members to be given a sense of care and consideration for their own journey in a way that other services have not been able to give them. They understand the barriers that mainstream services and formal settings have, which stop Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from seeking help (Jabour, 2017; as cited in Guntuku, 2020). It is vital to The Shed that every service who enters this space is genuine in its efforts to support the people of Mount Druitt, in a way that moves beyond simply ticking a box. 

The Shed realises that wellbeing includes far more than just mental wellbeing, but also incorporates physical, spiritual, social, and cultural wellbeing; if a person doesn’t have shelter, food, cultural connection, or social support, this will affect their mental health. Through this understanding, The Shed aims to be a bridge between the people needing support in Mount Druitt, and the services in Mount Druitt who are able to provide this support. And the success of these approaches have become visible over the years, through the reduction of suicide in the local area (Macdonald & Welsh, 2012). As with all sheds, this Shed fills itself with a variety of tools that serve a unique purpose, and that can be utilised by every man, woman and child who walks through the doors. 

Evidence in practice
The use of yarning in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is an important part of creating meaningful connection, and appears in the form of relaxed, open-ended, two-way communication involving important information embedded into storytelling. Within a clinical or organisational setting, the principles of yarning can be used by a service provider to establish trust and a relationship with the service user, which allows the service provider to develop an understanding of the service user’s health issue within the context of their life story (Lin, Green & Bessarab, 2016).
A grassroots approach arises with people from a community coming together through shared interests and/or identity, and providing support to others to fill the gaps created by systemic barriers. They are most powerful and effective when run by the very groups affected by injustice (Underhill, Wood, Pfau & Raja, 2014).

Gibson, C., Crockett, J., Dudgeon, P., Bernoth, M. & Lincoln, M. (2020). Sharing and valuing older Aboriginal people’s voices about social and emotional wellbeing services: a strength-based approach for service providers. Aging & Mental Health, 24(3), pp. 481-488. doi:              10.1080/13607863.2018.1544220

Guntuku, S. (2020). The need for shift in approach to suicide prevention in Australia. Open Journal Of Social Sciences, 8(8), pp. 150-157. Available from https://doi.org/10.4236/jss.2020.88013

Lin, I., Green, C., & Bessarab, D. (2016). ‘Yarn with me’: applying clinical yarning to improve clinician–patient communication in Aboriginal health care. Australian Journal of Primary Health, 22, pp. 377–382. Available from: https://www.publish.csiro.au/PY/pdf/PY16051

Macdonald, J. J., & Welsh, R. (2012). The Shed in Mt Druitt: Addressing the Social Determinants of Male Health and Illness. Sydney: Western Sydney University. Available from https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1308234/MHIC0437_TheShedMtDruitt_FA_LR.pdf

Smith, J.A., Merlino, A., Christie, B., et al. (2020). ‘Dudes Are Meant to be Tough as Nails’: The Complex Nexus Between Masculinities, Culture and Health Literacy From the Perspective of Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Males – Implications for Policy and Practice. American Journal of Men’s Health, 14(3). doi: 10.1177/1557988320936121

Underhill, C., Wood, S. K., Pfau, J., & Raja, S. (2014). Chapter 10: Grassroots movement in mental health, pp. 93-102. In Okpaku, S.O., Essentails of Global Mental Health. Available from https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=VnPgAgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA93&dq=grassroots+approach+mental+health&ots=dLKc11Yaez&sig=3Fo1JZsaxq0JM6aqAMD8JeAjUNs#v=onepage&q=grassroots%20approach%20mental%20health&f=false

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