Loneliness is a distressing experience perceived as isolation and rejection. It has been recognized as a social problem throughout the existence of Homo sapiens, and is now considered, in conjunction with social isolation, to be an emergent public health problem affecting all age groups. Mental and physical health are impacted with effects often being negative and long lasting. Various factors contribute to the genesis of loneliness.
‘Third places’, represent places people visit when not at home (first place) or at work or education (second place), are espoused as providing an intervention for loneliness and social isolation. Many of the places proffered lack the credentials needed to address loneliness, notably an environment providing a safe, caring and supportive environment both physically and emotionally, and have commercial imperatives; others require significant financial inputs and commitments by the participant and are neither designed nor equipped nor provide an environment for meaningful loneliness management. The number of third places has been diminishing over recent years.
Third places that can provide the conducive environment for loneliness intervention are few. The Australian Men’s Shed arose out of recognition of depression, loneliness and high suicide rate in males in rural Australia. It is modelled on the concept of the backyard shed where men felt comfortable and maintained their self-esteem and worked on projects. It provides an environment in which men initially, now women, can connect in a safe caring, non-judgmental environment. The model has been emulated in several other countries. The system is not perfect, lacking funding despite providing significant savings to the public purse in the cost of professional mental and physical health care. It functions on the goodwill based on ‘with a little help from my friends’, who also derive benefits from the system.