As barbers, you listen and hear so much that it’s vital for you to take care of your own mental wellbeing – but barbers are also well placed to spot the signs that someone else may be in need of help, whether it be a client or colleague. So, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Modern Barber caught up with a few industry pros to discuss what barbershops can do to encourage positive mental health.
Will Brown, Owner of award-winning salon Will Brown Hair, has had great success in his career, explaining: “I’ve presented my work on national stages, worked on photo shoots and won personal and business accolades – but I’ve done all this while living with some debilitating mental health issues, and it’s been hard at times.” Will’s own experiences have since led him to spread the message on mental health training in barbershops far and wide, working alongside Oly Newton – an experienced motivational speaker and Mental Health First Aid trainer through Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England – to create Open Chair.
Meanwhile, all the barbers at Murdock London salons are Mental Health First Aiders, with barber Ben Vowles explaining: “A Mental Health First Aider is someone who has been trained to listen and identify that someone is maybe not feeling themselves or struggling a little with how they’re feeling. The support we can give is obviously limited as we aren’t therapists, but we can listen, let them know they’re in a safe, non-judgemental place and if you have a good relationship, you can steer them towards the appropriate help without telling them outright what to do.”
Discussing some of the knowledge he has gained through his experiences, Will explains that it can be difficult to spot the key signs that a client is struggling with mental health, however, suggests: “It is really important to follow their lead and not provoke a reaction. If their mood is out of character, then perhaps ask them ‘are you ok today?’ rather than ‘you alright?’. This has more empathy and could encourage them to fully answer the question.”
He adds: “Not all clients feel safe to be vulnerable straight away, so always build trust before attempting to start the conversation. A good way of doing this is by being open yourself. If you have opened up to your client, the first barrier has been broken down which could enable your client to reciprocate their experiences.”
Ben explains that it can be easier to identify if someone isn’t their usual self if you have an existing relationship: “You can tell if someone is feeling a little off if you know them well or if they’re a regular client. I ask how they are and if they want to open up a little then great, but it’s also important to respect boundaries if they don’t.”
Ben’s advice for listening to and supporting team members and clients…
1 – Don’t be a therapist. Be an ear for someone who may be nervous to open up, but is comfortable enough to mention things to you and steer them in the right direction.
2 – Don’t force anything, instead allow the person to make their own decisions on what to do next.
3 – The role of a Mental Health First Aider in the workplace isn’t to solve everyone’s problems but to be a point of contact for an employee who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. You can be there from having an initial conversation for them to talk it through, to supporting the person to get appropriate help.