When I wrote for HuffPost previously, I talked about the tragic loss of my friend to suicide, and how this harrowing experience led me to establish the Lions Barber Collective: a charity that works with barbers, barber shops and passionate brands to help raise awareness and offer support to the millions of men around the world that suffer with mental illness in complete silence.
Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, I'd like to talk more about the mental health epidemic that is plaguing the minds of men, and how barber shops are leading the way in helping to break down the barriers that men have built between themselves and the acceptance that they can (and should) talk about their feelings.
With the help of premium men's grooming brand The Bluebeards Revenge, we have commissioned an extensive survey that adds more detail to the current mental health picture. As a former Royal Marine's Commando, the brand's Managing Director, David Hildrew, comes from an environment where mental health is particularly prevalent, meaning he was only too happy to offer his support.
Our survey discovered that 58% of men in the UK have never openly discussed anything to do with their mental health with friends and family. It's a startling figure that we are looking to change with the help of our Barber Talk initiative.
Barber Talk educates barbers in how to spot the signs of depression and mental illness in clients that are willing to open up about it. Then, barbers are encouraged to make their clients feel comfortable in a non-clinical and non-judgemental way, before signposting those in need to suitable professional help, such as charities like the Samaritans.
The research also revealed that men are more stressed today than they were 10-years ago; with a staggering 62% of those aged 35-or-over saying they feel greater pressure in 2017 than they did in 2007. We asked the men we surveyed what was causing their stress and among the top reasons were work (48%), money (27%) and even social media (35%).
Social media is a particularly interesting reason: I often speak with clients that feel they struggle with an over-exposure to networks such as Facebook and Instagram. They find themselves comparing their lives and achievements with other people's filtered internet profiles.
As a barber, I am able to have uniquely close relationships with my clients: they trust me to touch intimate areas such as their heads, ears and even their faces on a regular basis. Add to that the fact that I am often outside of their social circles and a sense of trust and confidentiality is quickly established.
Combine this trust with a surge of customers thanks to current barbering trends and it's easy to see how barber shops have become the number one hang-out spot for men in the UK. Previously it was local pubs, but our survey has proved that 69% of men now say they have a better relationship with their barber than their local landlord or lady.
92% also declared that they visit their barber at least once a month, with 10% even visiting weekly to smarten up their style and socialise with like-minded regulars. In comparison, only 70% make a monthly trip to their local watering hole.
The only way for us to improve the current situation men face is to provide them with suitable safe havens that they feel comfortable enough to speak within, and encourage more men to open up about their feelings.
Useful websites and helplines:
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 UK and ROI (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill)
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
The Mix is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41
Maytree is a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London in a non-medical setting. For help or to enquire about a stay, call 020 7263 7070