Hairdressing school doesn’t teach you about counter transference, projection, negative reinforcement or personality disorders. Nor does it dabble in the more recognisable mental health issues – depression and anxiety, which is a shame really, because most men feel comfortable talking to their barbers. There’s just the right levels of familiarity and detachment. Why burden your friends with your woes when you can fill those awkward silences getting your beard trimmed with a little therapeutic offloading instead?
Tom Chapman, one of the world’s top creative barbers and founder of The Lions Barber Collective experienced first-hand the affects of poor mental health after he lost a friend to suicide, a ‘completely unexpected tragedy’ which drove him forwards in his campaigning for men’s suicide awareness and mental health. He’s now the driving force behind a new training programme, a sort of empathetic barbering style, BarberTalk, which enables hairdressers to recognise, talk, listen and advise clients when they’re sat in the chair.
“As Barbers we have a unique relationship of trust and friendship crossing personal space,” says Tom. “This often creates a strong bond allowing our clients to open up and discuss subjects they wouldn’t usually talk to their friends or family about.”
In many cases there’s not a lot you can do except listen. “You cant make anyone do anything unless they want to,” he says. “The best thing you can do is let them know that you’re there to listen non judgementally when and if they need. Since I’ve made it public that its OK to talk to me, many people I’ve known for years have said things they never would have before.”
The cause looks like it going global pretty quickly, with BarberTalk escapades taking place all over the world, most recently in Sweden, arguably home of the best beards.
“We need to get to a place in society where the stigma around mental health has been removed and the attitude towards it is the same as physical health,” says Tom. “Encouraging men to talk in a barbershop can only be a huge leap in the right direction. It’s something that shouldn’t need to be overthought, just an everyday thing.”
The BarberTalk training should be ready to roll out in 2017, but Tom warns about bringing your smartphone into the shop. “Mental health is a problem today partly because we are all contactable 24/7 which means its very hard to switch off and take some time for ourselves. Social media also plays a part as it contains everyones highlights or images with filters or photoshop that show this perception of perfect lives of perfect people that we all have to live up to. The biggest thing is to take time for yourself and your family. And make sure you take time everyday to do something you love to do.”
The Lions Barber Collective and The Bluebeards Revenge are encouraging men to ‘man up and talk’ about mental health issues.