Getting a haircut can boost your mental health

 With hairdressers and barbers reopening, millions of people across the UK have been able to breathe a sigh of relief. For some, it’s a welcome end to disastrous home trims and colouring catastrophes.

But for others, a visit to the barber or salon means much more than an angled bob or a textured crop. For people struggling with mental health problems, the salon chair can be a safe space to talk about their lives and open up about their problems.

Prior to the pandemic, the UK was already dealing with large numbers of issues related to mental health. Figures released in 2016 showed that 1 in 6 adults experienced a mental health problem like anxiety or depression every week. The same study showed that 1 in 5 adults had considered suicide at some point in their lives. While the final effect of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health will not be known for some time (COVID-19 will generate countless scientific and sociological research papers and many forests-worth of books), emerging studies are painting a bleak picture. Towards the end of 2020, modelling suggested that as many as 10 million people in England alone will require new or additional mental health support due to the pandemic, many on a long-term basis.

Although millions will get the help they need, sadly huge numbers will not seek help at all. Despite the efforts of healthcare bodies, charities and other organisations, far too many of us think there’s a stigma associated with having a mental health problem. While we’ll probably have more need to talk about our mental health than ever before over the next few years to come, a lot of people will be too embarrassed to go talk to their doctor. Although it might seem surprising, hairdressers and barbers are likely to be in the front line of support for people fighting mental health issues.

It’s well known that people go to the hairdresser when they want to boost their confidence with a new look for a new job, or to help to wash a failed relationship out of their hair. The feel-good benefits of a regular groom or pampering are also self-evident, but it is likely that there is much more to it than that too. The relaxing environment of a salon or barber’s shop can make it much easier for people to unburden themselves of their worries, while hairdressers tend to build strong relationships up with their clients, often over the course of many years.

As trust builds, barriers are broken down and people become willing to talk, and while they might feel a stigma of talking to a mental health professional, it can be much easier to open up while sitting in a salon chair. Certainly, from financial worries and redundancies, to failing relationships and COVID problems, hairdressers and barbers hear it all. Often, the conversations can end up covering some challenging issues and tough subjects. A recent national survey by Booksy, the brilliant online appointment and schedule management app that makes booking and managing appointments easy for health and beauty businesses and their clients, found that 43% of hair professionals felt they were performing a dual role – a hairdresser and a therapist.

This view has been endorsed by the NHS, who have recently partnered up with the Lions Barber Collective’s BarberTalk programme. The Lions Barber Collective is an organisation founded by Torquay barber Tom Chapman and works to raise awareness for men’s mental health and to promote suicide prevention. The BarberTalk scheme trains barbers how to recognise symptoms of mental health issues in their clients and give them the skills to listen empathetically without judgement, ask the right questions and let them know about the relevant local support services where they can get professional help.

It’s not surprising that health organisations are targeting hair professionals for mental health training, not only due to the relationships they build with their clients, but because they are they see their clients regularly but not too frequently. This means they can spot changes in people that those seeing them all the time could easily miss.

As we emerge into the post-COVID world, mental health issues, already commonplace, are likely to become even more part of everyday life. The stigma around these problems will hopefully continue to be combatted and broken down, but hair professionals are going to play a key role in helping to deal with them. Simply by listening, they’ll have an impact. With excellent schemes such as BarberTalk helping to promote knowledge of the signs of mental health struggles, they can make a massive difference and even save lives by encouraging their clients to get the help they need.

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