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Barbers

Why your Clients Mental Health Should be a Priority

by charlottegw / last updated April 25, 2018

Men’s mental health awareness and suicide prevention movement, The Lions Barber Collective, is transforming barbershops into safe spaces and using haircuts to start conversations about mental wellbeing. In the Spring issue of HJ Men we caught up with barber Tom Chapman to find out what the charity has been up to this year. Plus, scroll to the end to find out what you can do to help clients who are struggling with their mental health.

Barber’s privilege

Sadly in the UK suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Luckily barbers are in a unique position to help with their client’s mental health. “When I started out in the hairdressing industry there was always a running joke that we were therapists as well as stylists. Apparently we spend 200 hours a year just listening,” says Tom. “When men get in the barber’s chair there’s a huge level of intimacy. Just think about it – we touch areas normally reserved for lovers or family members like their hair, faces and necks.”

“When men get in the barber’s chair there’s a huge level of intimacy. Just think about it – we touch areas normally reserved for lovers or family members like their hair, faces and necks.”

Tom believes it’s this intimacy that means men feel they can open up to a barber. In fact, according to a survey by male grooming brand The Bluebeards Revenge feel more comfortable discussing sensitive mental health issues, such as depression, with a barber than a doctor. “Men can be honest with their barbers,” Tom explains. “We feel like friends, but we’re also separated from our client’s private lives so whatever they tell us isn’t going to get back to their social networks.”

The lion’s den

Tom’s next project is setting up so-called ‘Lions Dens’ across the UK. “In my shop we’ve set up a drop-in support group for the local community once a month. It’s open to everyone, not just clients. We have a mental health worker who volunteers their time.”

What’s great is the relaxed environment of the barbershop. “The shop is still running so it feels like a non-clinical space. It’s not like going into a normal therapy session where you have to all out a form or let them know how you’re feeling on a scale of 1-10. It’s very much a listening space.”

Tom is focused on getting information about the services available at organisations such as Mind and the Samaritans, to those who need it. “Our aim is to bridge the gap between the communities we serve and the mental health resources that already exist,” he explains. Currently there are three barbershops running a Lions Den in the UK. The mission now is to encourage barbers throughout the UK to hold a meeting on the last Friday of every month during the last two hours of the day. Interested in holding your own Lions Den? Go to lionsbarbercollective.com or email info@ thelionsbarbercollective.com.

Moving forward

The Lions Barber Collective received its official charity number and the prestigious Points of Light award from the Prime Minister in 2017, which recognises outstanding people who are making a change in their community. From May 14, The Bluebeards Revenge will donate 50p from its hair gel to the charity. The brand will also place mental health charity signposts on all of its packaging. There’s an upcoming partnership with Domino’s Pizza and donut brand Krispy Kreme in the pipeline too.

“Looking after our clients is crucial,” concludes Tom. “After all, they are paying our wages and keeping our industry afloat. Without them we wouldn’t be anything.” This year Tom is launching a pilot for The BarberTalk training programme. “We are going to be training the guys from Pall Mall Barbers in London first and then the ambition is to get that programme out to more barbers across the UK,” he says. There will also be an online version of the training programme called BarberTalk Light, which will sit on the Lions Barber Collective website with an online quiz. If completed, barbershops will receive a certification and sticker for their shop window so members of the public will see it is a ‘mental wellbeing safe place’.

“Looking after our clients is crucial. After all they are paying our wages and keeping our industry afloat. Without them we wouldn’t be anything.”

All of the business cards, window stickers and flyers help to break down the barriers that men have around mental health. “It’s not just about mental health ‘problems’ but the human condition,” stresses Tom. “As humans we all need to feel like we belong, we all need to be loved. The Lions Barber Collective isn’t just focused on suicide, we are bringing awareness to the fact we all have mental health and need a safe space to talk.”

Tom’s Tips

The signs to look out for and the actions to take if you think your client isn’t coping…

  • Ask questions
    There are little things people say that we tend to brush over. Phrases like ‘I feel the world is against me’ or ‘life isn’t worth living’ are often said but we tend to respond with ‘oh, you’ll be alright.’ We brush things under the carpet because we’re scared of confronting the truth. But I try to respond to those questions with “do you really think that?” This gives the client the opportunity to open up about it.
  • Look for extremes
    Visual marks such as extreme weight loss (or weight gain) between appointments or indications a client is not getting enough sleep or too much sleep, can be signs of mental health problems.
  • Don’t be scared
    I had a guy in my chair who said: ‘I want to kill myself’. He made it sound like he was joking but when I asked him, ‘do you really want to kill yourself?’ he broke down. That’s when I suggested coming to the Lions Den. He told me afterwards that my question made him see how serious it was. It was enough to make him realise he didn’t want to go down that route..

Read the full interview with Tom Chapman in the Spring issue of HJ Men.

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