Can a shave save a life? According to research by Bluebeards Revenge (a barbers supplier), more than half the men surveyed see their barber before their GP, and are also more likely to discuss private matters in the barber’s chair than the GP one. Even with most of my shaving done by myself in the bathroom, I see my barber more than I see my GP, and when I see my GP I always feel rushed. I couldn’t imagine wanting to bring up any mental health issues in such context. The Lions Barber Collective, who train barbers to recognise the signs of depression and risk of suicide, is clearly onto something.
Death by suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, and it’s been on the rise in the past 50 years. Attempts are 20 times more numerous than death, and 90% of it all is due to mental health issues. The majority of these attempts affect men, and yet men are less likely to reach out for help. The Lion Barber Collective is seeking to address this disparity by making this men-only space a safe space for men to talk freely about what they are going through.
Tom Chapman founded the charity in 2016, the year that followed the loss of his friend Alex to suicide. Of this loss, he would just say: “I had no idea what he was going through”. Now he has started a movement just by letting people know they could talk to him, and he’d be there to listen with no judgement, stigma or shame. Other barbers in the 100+ strong collective have come to be a part of it through personal loss, like Ken Hermes who lost his dad (aged only 45) at 15. He is now a father of 3 and knowing the pain of losing one’s father he wants to use his unique position as a barber to make sure no other children feel it too.
The medical profession is fully behind the initiative: the charity has esteemed doctors on the boars of trustees, and NHS England’s national mental health director Claire Murdoch praised the initiative, which is the professionals’ ears and eyes in the community, saying “The NHS is never enough when it is about issues of mental health.” We all have a part to play.
In a 2017 interview with The Independent, Chapman said that “When I talk to people or men share their stories through the Lions and they get a great response and are supported they feel shocked as they expected to get some stick and be told to ‘man up’". Just listening in a way that cherishes the dignity of the person and signposting them to the professional help available like the Samaritans, Mind or the NHS (which now has self-referral services in many areas) can make a huge difference for someone.
The fans of the project do not end there, though. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, has been a big supporter and the former Prime Minister Theresa May awarded it a Points of Light Award. Mental health is a subject His Royal Highness is fervent about and he’s keen about what the Lions Barber Collective are doing in particular. Having the future king of the United Kingdom talk so publically about mental health has done a lot to address the stigma in our society.
If you feel the need to talk to someone in a supportive and confidential environment, in the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.