We spoke with The Lions Barber Collective, an innovate charity helping raise awareness in male suicide prevention.
“Can I have a short back and sides? And… I wanted to kill myself last night,” As heavy as that sounds, it’s the type of conversation The Lions Barber Collective is hoping its trained barbers will be able to handle with confidence. “We’re not trying to make our barbers into counsellors,” Tom Chapman, founder of the Lions, is keen to emphasise. “We just train them to be the link and to point people in need to organisations such as the Samaritans.”
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. And in 2015, 75% of all suicides in the UK were male. Hairdresser Chapman is well aware of the impact of suicide. Two years ago a friend of his took is own life, and it made Chapman suddenly cognisant of the fact that more help was need in suicide prevention. From that, the idea of the Lions came about.
The Lions has now joined up with grooming brand The Bluebeard’s Revenge, who conducted a survey on male mental health. They found that over half of British men feel more comfortable discussing mental health issues with their barbers than their doctors. One respondent claimed, “My relationship with my barber is over 25 long years. He knows everything about me and has become a very reliable and trustworthy friend that I can disclose any information to.” The Lions aim is to distance itself from the “clinical” setting of a doctors surgery, though, while at the same time creating a confidential safe haven for men to open up about their troubles.
Chapman points out that we struggle with people inside our personal spaces, but we’re more than happy to let our hairdresser, who is often a stranger, touch our hair — an area usually reserved for loved ones. He jokes that in the industry, “You’re not only a hairdresser, you’re a counsellor and a psychotherapist. You listen to everyone’s problems and stories all day long.”
A hair cut can be viewed psychologically as a way of two people building up a trusting relationship. You trust your barber to make you look good on the outside. Why not let them make you feel good on the inside? Or at least set you on the route to happiness. The link is already in place.
As men, the tired stereotype is that you’re expected to be strong and hide your feelings. There’s stigma in silence, or lack of silence.
However, Chapman thinks this attitude is changing and that young boys are now more willing to open up about mental issues they are going through. He believes that educating teens about mental health, getting people to talk to one another in a non-judgemental manner, could prevent some people from needing professional help. “By the time my 18-month-old son reaches 18 years,” he finishes, “I hope talking will be the norm.”
For more information, visit thelionsbarbercollective.com.