On World Suicide Prevention Day, meet the barber saving lives – one haircut at a time!

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and across the globe, organisations are talking about the steps that can be taken to save lives.

For some, that means taking steps to improve support resources, especially among employers but for one inspirational British barber it involved setting up his own men’s mental health awareness and suicide prevention charity, named The Lions Barber Collective.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK and, in 2014, 74% of all suicide victims in the UK were male.

These stats prompted Tom Chapman and his industry colleagues to do something to help the customers who pass through their door everyday.  The Lions Barber Collective is turning leading barbers shops into safe spaces for men using the opportunity of a regular haircut to start conversations about mental health.

Research suggests that barbers are in a very unique position to help men in their battle with depression – while many people of all sexes shy away from a visit to the GP, many people of both sexes will happily chat to the person styling their hair.  This was borne out by research – in a survey commissioned by the Lions Barber Collective and The Bluebeards Revenge, responses showed that more than half of the men in Britain would feel more comfortable discussing sensitive mental health issues such as depression with their barbers/hairdressers than their doctors.

The group is having an enormous impact with men who traditional mental health services can struggle to reach.  The stigma of seeking medical help or talking therapy is often too much for men to consider, often even close family and friends will have been unaware of the depth of suffering a loved one or colleague was battling.   Tom organises a professionally run training programme, which is teaching barbers to ‘recognise, talk, listen and advise’ clients and works with the Samaritans charity – signposting the services they offer to clients in need.

The group is already saving lives, and Tom has been awarded a ‘Point of Light’ Award by Prime Minister Theresa May to recognise his individual achievements for driving change in the community – but the charity won’t be resting on their laurels.

Tom has recently teamed up with leading British male grooming brand The Bluebeards Revenge to create a specially branded Hair Gel, with 50p from every tub sold being donated straight back to the charity. Alongside this product (shown above), the insides of The Bluebeards Revenge cartons have been rebranded with powerful messages to support The Lions Barber Collective – anything to stimulate that all-important conversation.

Tom explains that being open to listening without judgement makes a huge difference, but cautions that much work still needs to be done if lives are to be saved:

“Since starting the Lions Barber Collective I have had a huge increase in men opening up and offloading whilst sat in the chair. I think giving them the green light to talk is what is most important. In fact it is something that we can all do with little or no training, just let people know that you’re willing to listen with empathy and without judgement.

“I don’t know whether it is because I am working around mental health a lot more but there is definitely an increase in opportunities for men to talk about mental health and suicide. We try to provide as many as possible even though I feel there needs to be a lot more.

“I actually lost a close friend recently who I have worked with as a model for hair shoots and even with this opportunity to open up we still lost him. There is still a lot more work to be done, hopefully we can work together to save one more life, then the next and so on, together we are stronger.”