In an effort to reduce suicide statistics, barbers across North Wales are undergoing mental health training. The idea is to teach barbers to notice the warning signs of mental health issues in their customers, as well as provide best practices for how barbers can listen, give advice, and provide customers with the necessary support resources.
The campaign launched on Monday, November 19 — International Men’s Day — and strives to raise awareness of suicide in men. In North Wales, suicide is the largest killer of men; in fact, men account for 75% of all suicides in the United Kingdom.
The mental health initiative is run by local authorities, university health boards, and mental health charities and is supported by NHS Charity, Awyr Las’ I CAN campaign. The goal? To break down and dismantle mental health stigma and encourage open, vulnerable conversations around once-taboo mental health topics.
While mental health awareness campaigns are always something to stand behind, this one begs the questions: Why barbers? Why would barbers require mental health training more so than anyone else? Mahir Soylu, a Prestatyn barber, explained why barbers are such an integral part to cracking down on male suicide in North Wales:
“Barbershops provide that safe space for men to open up about how they’re feeling. We’re not close enough to our customers to know what is going on in their lives, but we work in close proximity to them for 15 minutes and we are literally touching them. That breaks down a barrier and brings more openness.”
“I’ve had people crying in my chair. Simply asking people how they are and how they’re doing can make all the difference. I don’t often have the answers but I know I can make an impact just by listening. [The program] will give me a better insight into what it’s like to live with certain conditions and how I can help them.”
Soylu makes an important point — perhaps more people, in all kinds of professions and fields, should receive mental health training. And he’s hardly the only barber to support the movement: Jason Parry of Magic Clippers Barbers also hails the initiative.
“Barbers are in a unique position to help clients who have mental health issues. They can open up to their barber in a way that they might not open up to other people so this is a real opportunity for us to make a difference.”
And it’s true: It’s not like mental health issues are reserved for those in mental health professions. Mental health struggles like anxiety, stress, low self-esteem and more come up in everyday conversation. So doesn’t it make sense to provide mental health training to as many professionals as possible? Not just to barbers, but to teachers, educators, hair stylists; anyone working in a customer service-like environment where it’s part of their job to talk to people.
Sam Watson, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s Head of Mental Health Service, said,
“There have been a number of successful initiatives to encourage people to talk about their mental health, but it’s also vital that people have the skills to listen effectively and provide helpful advice. We’re working hard to improve the mental health services we provide, but we also recognize the crucial role that people in communities across North Wales can play in supporting each other.”
The program might have launched in conjunction with International Men’s Day, but according to the initiative’s supporters, it has the promise of a much longer shelf-life.
“The training programme is the first step towards building resilient communities which are empowered to take ownership and responsibility for making changes to improve peoples’ lives. This is critical if we are to reduce the rate of death by suicide and prevent mental ill health.”
The CALL Mental Health Helpline is a free and confidential service, available 24/7. CALL provides emotional support and signposting to local support services. Call 0800 132 737, text ‘Help’ to 81066, or visit www.callhelpline.org.uk for more information.
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Photo: Hai Phung
Steph Osmanski is a freelance writer and social media consultant who specializes in health and wellness content. Her words have appeared in Seventeen, Life & Style, Darling Magazine, and more. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton and writing a memoir.