Meet the barbers trying to save men from suicide

10 October 2018 | South West England

Paul with Tom Chapman

They are specially trained to spot mental health warning signs during haircut chats.

Men are famously reluctant to open up about their feelings. And research shows that one of the few places they feel comfortable talking about emotional issues is in the barber’s chair.
In fact, 53 per cent are more likely to discuss their personal problems with a barber than a doctor.

So when one of barber Tom Chapman’s close friends took his own life, he realised he was perfectly placed to help prevent others falling victim to male suicide, the biggest killer of men under 45.

Tom, 34, from Torquay, sought mental health training to spot the warning signs of anxiety and depression in his customers, along with the best ways to listen and give advice.
In 2015, he founded the Lions Barber Collective, a network of more than 200 hairdressers and stylists in the UK and abroad who have undergone a training programme called BarberTalk, teaching them to support clients when they see any warning signs.

He said: “Hairdressers find that they end up being counsellors for their clients so I wanted to openly tell them it is OK to talk to me.

“I’ve had clients of 15 years opening up to me and I’ve had new clients seeking me out because of it.

“The barber shop is a safe, natural environment where you can let someone into your personal space and speak openly.

“Our barbers are trained to ensure they ask the right questions and give the right answers. It’s estimated each of us listens to people for 2,000 hours a year and this is a very special way to use that time.

“We don’t want to make our barbers counsellors, but to use our position of trust to bridge the gap between the community and the resources that exist already to support people.”

Paul Richardson, 32, had been suffering with suicidal thoughts when he went for a haircut with Tom in December 2015. He said: “I lost my marriage, my dog, my business. I had to start over and began to panic about losing everything again. I couldn’t work out the point in being alive.

“I’ve known Tom for years. When I sat in the chair, he asked how things were going and I was very negative. Each time I said something, he put a positive twist on it, then told me about the scheme.”

That conversation led to Paul speaking to his family and GP, who diagnosed him with depression and referred him for cognitive behaviour therapy.
He is now a trustee and volunteer for the project, supporting others who are suffering through a Facebook group and at meet-ups in Tom’s salon called Lions’ Den.

He said: “It makes me feel good to know I’m helping. To have someone ask ‘how are you coping?’ every now and then makes all the difference.”

Tom said: “Paul had always struck me as a successful, happy-go-lucky guy so I was surprised by the extent of his suffering. It shows how we don’t really know what is going on unless we ask.

“The point of this project was to stop another person taking their life. To know we have is an amazing thing.

“We are seeing a trickle-down effect now, where men in our community are opening up, passing on the support and knowledge that we gave them. The more we talk, the less there is a stigma.”

**If you have concerns about your mental health, or the mental health of someone close to you, visit mind.org.uk

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