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  • Writer's pictureAsh Adams

IN THE CHAIR: MENTAL HEALTH IN THE BARBERSHOP


As discussed in our first article (THE ART OF SELF CARE) the barbershop is not just a place for a fresh haircut or a traditional shave; it’s a sanctuary where men gather, share stories and build camaraderie. Traditionally known as a male-centric space, barbershops have evolved beyond their conventional purpose. In a post-pandemic world, the barbershop has taken on a long forgotten role as a safe haven for mental health check-ins. This article explores the growing trend of incorporating mental health conversations into the traditional barbershop experience and the positive impact it has on men’s wellbeing.

Barbershops have been an integral part of communities for centuries. Beyond providing grooming services, these establishments were where men congregated to engage in discussions, debates and connect on a personal level. The barbers themselves often played the roles of confidants and listeners. The historical significance of barbershops as places of male bonding forms the foundation for their modern-day role in addressing mental health concerns.


In many societies, there exists a deeply ingrained stigma surrounding mental health. Men, in particular, have been conditioned to suppress their emotions and maintain a facade of strength and stoicism. This can often become a toxic expectation and has led to a reluctance among men to seek help or discuss their mental wellbeing openly. In recent years, a number of organisations have been created to help tackle these stigmas in men. However, one avenue that still remains completely untapped is the barbershop.


Recognising the importance of creating safe spaces for mental health discussions, barbershops have emerged as unconventional yet effective platforms for addressing men’s mental health concerns. Many forward thinking barbers like us here at Ampersand Barber Co. and The Locker Room Barbershop in Canberra, now integrate mental health check-ins into their services, encouraging their clients to open up about their emotional struggles. So why should you trust your barber with these kinds of check-ins?


1. CONFIDENTIALITY AND TRUST: Barbers often play the role of trusted confidants; we are already listening to your needs when it comes to your hair (which you trust us with). But more than a haircut, a barber exists (or at least should) to make their clients feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns about life while maintaining privacy within their conversations.


2. ACTIVE LISTENING AND EMPATHY: Barbers are trained to listen to your needs; yes this is only in way of consultations with clients about hair goals but the foundations of active listening are there. Here at Ampersand Barber Co. the training has gone further than simple consultations, and qualifications in mental health have been obtained and will be obtained for anyone who comes on board. By offering this higher level of attention and genuine care, barbers can provide an environment where men can express themselves freely and the conversation doesn’t just become unsolicited advice.


3. ENCOURAGING VULNERABILITY: The barber/client relationship is unique, fostering a sense of camaraderie that can be conducive to vulnerability. This allows men to shed their emotional armour and discuss their mental health struggles without fear of judgment or ridicule.


4. RESOURCE CENTRAL: OK, so we aren’t psychologists or psychiatrists (unless someone is); but beyond lending an empathetic ear, barbers can become gateways of information, extended resources and referrals to mental health professionals. By equipping clients with information, they empower them to take charge of their mental wellbeing.


The introduction of mental health check-ins at barbershops has continued to see numerous positive outcomes for men’s wellbeing. Here are 4 benefits that we have seen:


1. REDUCING ISOLATION: By promoting open conversations, barbershops create a sense of community and reduce the isolation that often accompanies mental health struggles. Depending on the size of your space and if there is anything else on offer within the shop, you may find men wanting to hang around longer. Think of the film Coming to America; a significant backdrop for that film is the small barbershop where you see an old Jewish man always in the shop hanging out. Barbershops often become this hub of belonging that isn’t found in a lot of other places for men.



2. EARLY INTERVENTION: Through active listening and identification of potential warning signs, barbers can identify clients who may benefit from ongoing professional mental health support. This early intervention can be instrumental in preventing the escalation of mental health issues. When barbers build a rapport with clients, we can often become the first turning point for men or the first to start seeing signs. Say for instance you are someone who comes weekly, yes there are a few, and that becomes fortnightly or monthly; your barber is going to notice that change in pattern before anyone else in your week might. Now this may have a simple explanation, like the interest rates go up again so you skip a week; or you start cutting your hair at home to save money; or you’re saving for when the lads go on tour in Europe (real talk though-that’s 5 of my regulars that I won’t see for a month or so which is cool because I know they’re chasing that European ). The point is, these signs may have simple explantations or they may be deeper warning signs of struggles that barbers may be able to help identify.


3. DESTIGMATIZING MENTAL HEALTH: Integrating mental health discussion into everyday settings like barbershops helps normalise the topic, eroding the stigma associated with seeking help. I am so thankful for organisations like Movember, Gotcha4life, Tomorrow Man, The Black Dog Institute and the many others that lead the way in normalising the talk surrounding men’s mental health and you will often see barbershops partnering in the work these organisations do (especially come November and everyone grows the worst or greatest moustache possible).


4. IMPROVING SELF-ESTEEM: A fresh haircut or groomed beard can boost self-esteem, providing clients with a renewed sense of confidence that positively impacts their mental wellbeing. A few years back I was fixing a haircut of a client who I learnt had just gotten out of prison and evidently haircuts were harder to do there. Something he said after the cut always stuck with me. “Damn, I feel good.” A typical first response after a cut is “I look good,” but rare are the moments a client says, “I feel good.” It is in those moments, you realise there is more to life than being really, really, really, ridiculously good looking.


WHY DO I FIND THIS SO IMPORTANT?


Because this is the whole reason I became a barber. It is the reason that Ampersand Barber Co. exists today. It’s because I was on the receiving end of a barber who took the time to check-in with me and I never realised just how important that consistent appointment was in my life.


Barbershops are undergoing a transformation, transcending their traditional role to address men’s mental health concerns. By creating safe spaces for open conversations and supporting their clients’ emotional wellbeing, these establishments are breaking down barriers and normalising the conversation around mental health. Being empathetic with our clients and providing care and resources where we can, barbers can make a profound difference in the lives of their clients. As we continue to evolve in our understanding of mental health, incorporating mental health check-ins at barbershops is a step in the right direction. We want to continue to create a place that men feel valued, heard and supported as they navigate their emotional journeys, all the while looking fresh.

Image courtesy of The Locker Room Barbershop

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