Be it lamenting a loss by our favorite team, or speaking in a meeting at work, we men have no problem talking at great length about a variety of topics.
However, when it comes to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, most remain silent, often suffering in silence due in part to stigma and stereotypes still deeply embedded in our culture. Not too long ago, the mere idea of men discussing their feelings with each other would be met with off-color jokes or comments from older generations about how in their day they simply “bucked up and dealt with it.”
The notion that men or women can simply flip a switch or internalize their feelings indefinitely has finally begun to wane over the past few years, thanks in part to social media and the web. While it can also be a place for people to spread hatred, more often than not, the internet is a place where we can all learn that we’re never truly alone. No matter what you may be dealing with, chances are you can find a place on the web with other folks going through the same thing.
But words on a screen can only go so far. That’s why in places like the UK as well as here in the states, a new trend is emerging in a familiar but unlikely place: Barbershops.
Sure, these monuments to manhood have long been a safe place for men of all ages to speak their minds freely and openly, but starting the conversation when it comes to topics like depression can be a bit trickier than asking who you like in Saturday night’s fight.
Building on the established relationship men have with their barber, organizations such as The Lion’s Barber Collective are finding new ways to train these gentleman groomers to recognize signs of personal struggles while also teaching them how to listen and advise.
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Today was epic for a lot of reasons but mostly because of the awesome recording session for an upcoming @BBC radio documentary about @thelionsbarbers hosted by this gent @pritchardswyd HUGE thank you to everyone involved in the making of this doc and of course @pforperfectpforpaul for once again sharing his story and helping break down the stigma and taboo around mental health and suicide.
Founded in 2016 by barber Tom Chapman, the Lion’s Barber Collective aims to make barbershops into judgment-free zones, allowing men to share any mental health issues in a place they’re already comfortable talking. The group was founded in response to the statistic that suicide is still the number one killer of men under 45 in the UK.
Barber Kenneth Hermes, 28, has seen first hand the difference this unique initiative can make. Hermes lost his father to suicide when he was just 15-years-old.
“My entire world changed,” Hermes tells UK media outlet XPOSE. “There was no note, no warning. One day, I woke up and he wasn’t there anymore. It hit me really hard. My dad and I were best friends. We were so close.”
The loss left Hermes struggling with his own mental health for several years, but eventually, he says the experience motivated him to step up and become part of the solution.
“I made a decision that I wouldn’t let my dad’s death be in vain, and if I could educate or support one person, and save one life, that his legacy would live on.”
A recent study sponsored by grooming brand Bluebeard’s Revenge found that a majority of men surveyed felt more comfortable discussing mental health with their barber than they did with a medical doctor.
Hermes believes this is likely due to the unique community atmosphere barber shops have long fostered.
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On #WorldSuicidePreventionDay we want to remind all of our followers that it's okay to not be okay. One of the best ways to cope with your mental health woes is to share them with those close to you. Today – in collaboration with men's mental health charity @thelionsbarbercollective – we want as many of you as possible to tag us in pictures of you hugging it out with your pals. Don't forget to include #hugitout in your post! Let's work together to spread the word that it's okay to talk about your problems. #barber #barbering #barbershop #barberlife #barberlove #barbergang #barbershopconnect #hair #hairstyle #haircut #hairproducts #menshair #menshaircut #menshairproducts #beard #beards #beardgang #beardoil #beardedmen #mensgrooming #mensgroomingproducts #menswear #mensfashion #mensstyle #bluebeards #thebluebeards #bluebeardsrevenge #thebluebeardsrevenge
“Barbering is one of the oldest trades around, and the type of men that don’t talk (not to stereotype) are quite often not talking because they’re proud. Having a trade that they respect is really helpful,” he says.
Hermes now serves as a brand ambassador for the Lion’s Collective, an organization he knows is just one small part of a much larger movement.
“If we could get all barbers in the UK to offer a mental health service, whether through our training or with other charities, that would be great,” says Hermes.
For those located in the UK, finding a barber who is part of the collective is as easy as visiting their website and searching by postal code. In addition, the site also features a training program that can be completed by barbers located anywhere in the world at no cost.
While all involved recognize that the informal chats are no replacement for medical attention, barbers like Hermes realize that simply starting the conversation can often be a major first step.
“We can make it OK to talk, because mental health is not a weakness.”
Here in the US, similar initiatives are popping up from New York to California, all focused on simply getting men talking.
Lorenzo Lewis is founder of “The Confess Project”, a mental health initiative for men of color.
Lewis hosts interactive 90 minutes conversations called “Beyond the Shop”, which aim to help men confess their vulnerabilities while providing resources to help them overcome their mental health struggles.
“At the barbershop, guys are already outspoken and opinionated, but we don’t tend to talk about self-care and the things that make sure we’re around for our kids and future generations,” says Sam Johnson, a Beyond the Shop participant in Louisville, Kentucky.
In an interview last year for YES Magazine, Lewis said that beyond listening and interacting, he also provides information on support groups and culturally competent therapists. According to the American Psychological Association, Black mental health professionals make up only 2.6 percent of the field.
Thankfully Lewis’ organization and dozens more like it are shifting the conversation and encouraging men of all ages to seek help when needed and to look out for other men in their lives.
While issues like suicide and depression can be difficult to bring up, the alternative can obviously be much worse. These are problems that will not go away overnight, but with so many organizations being formed to address individual circumstances, the days of just remaining silent will hopefully become a thing of the past.