How to Help with Anxiety and Other Mental Health Issues in Apprentices

It’s no secret that barbering can be an intense and challenging industry to work in, which is why considering the mental health of apprentices is crucial. This level of stress can often be quite surprising to those just starting in the industry, so it’s important to check in on your newbies!

We spoke to barbers and asked for their advice on how to help with anxiety and mental health issues at work. “Anxiety and stress is quite prevalent in barbering,” says Joe Pomper, Master Barber at Murdock London. Murdock’s story with fundraising and mental health awareness began when a regular client came into the shop and told them he’d been ill and was planning a fundraiser to raise awareness. “Next thing you know we had a football match and all our clients donated gifts to an auction and a raffle.” Something that was meant to be a one-off fundraiser got clients talking so Murdock launched the #morethanabarber hashtag, promoting wellbeing and self care away from the barbershop benefitting both clients and staff. “I’m really open with my mental health. I have crippling anxiety all the time and I’m always open with my clients, and they’re open with me. It is exhausting, but it’s so nice,” says Miles Wood-Smith, Master Barber at Murdock London. “We’re all mental health first aiders from top to bottom and I would recommend it even as an individual not just as a work thing. It definitely helps us at work with approaching conversations in a different way. We’re not therapists, we don’t give advice but we can try and point people in the right direction. From a personal point of view, I found it amazing because it really helped me.”

Tom Chapman, Barber, Educator and Founder of the Lions Barber Collective charity, tells us that barbers and hairdressers go unnoticed as the nation’s listeners. “If you’re a therapist you have to have a therapist but who listens to the barbers and hairdressers? We need to make sure that we are offloading whether that’s to friends, family or through buddying up systems until we can get something in place that is specific to our industry.” For a lot of apprentices and juniors entering the industry the role that they play in society isn’t front of mind says Tom: “When I started out, my manager said to be ‘Be prepared to be a therapist as well’ – I had no idea what he was talking about, but it became clear very quickly. People were talking to me about the menopause, miscarriages, affairs and divorces, and I was unprepared for that. This is why I am currently working on putting our training into the college curriculum so that hairdressers, barbers and beauticians are ready for these conversations.”

Joe adds that mental health first aid training should be standardised within the industry. “People need to understand the role that we play in society. It’s really important because people just talk to us and if you don’t know how to respond, and someone’s trying to open up to you, that’s a lost opportunity that could really help that person.” At Murdock the team have been hyper aware of each other’s mental health since coming out of lockdown, with Joe and Miles asking ‘What can we do to help our barbers while they’re at work?’ something they suggest all shop owners should be asking themselves. “There’s not enough done for barbers. It is a difficult job, you have the pressure of doing an amazing haircut, looking after that customer for the full experience as well as providing a mental health based conversation.” Small changes make all the difference, says Joe: “Most barber shops don’t even have a staff room. I never used to have a lunch break, but we’re slowly getting there with paid holiday, paid sickness, employed barbers, not just self-employed barbers or cash in hand stuff.”

Checking in and creating a safe space for your apprentices and juniors is one small step that makes a big difference explains Tom: “Letting people know that it’s okay to talk to you as the owner or the boss  is key. Sometimes you don’t realise how unapproachable you could be to a young apprentice or junior. Relationships have changed and bosses have changed, with the next generation coming through we need to be aware that they are much more open about their mental health.” He also explains that being aware of places all staff can reach out to can help point people in the right direction. “Whether you signpost in the staff room to services that are available could be beneficial to staff.”

The health and happiness of your team are everything. Not only will it keep your shop functioning, but it will permeate into their work and infuse passion into every cut. Isn’t that what barbering is all about?

The below services are available for yourself and your staff across the UK:

  • PAPYRUS – Prevention of Young Suicide is a UK charity dedicated to the prevention of suicide and the promotion of positive mental health and emotional wellbeing in young people. They provide confidential support and advice to young people struggling with thoughts of suicide, and anyone worried about a young person through their helpline, HOPELINEUK, 0800 068 41 41
  • Hub of Hope – The Hub of Hope is the UK’s leading mental health support database, that brings local, national, peer, community, charity, private and NHS mental health support and services together in one place
  • Samaritans – The Samaritans 24-hour service is is available to talk right now, call 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org 
  • Shout – Provides 24/7 crisis support across the UK. Text SHOUT to 85258 if you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need support