Three years ago I lost an old friend to suicide. So many people attended the funeral that they couldn’t get everyone through the crematorium doors; some friends even had to wait outside to pay their respects. This gesture of love made me realise that for all of the people that attended, my friend had still felt completely alone and unable to talk to anyone about his problems.
This harrowing experience affects thousands of UK families a year and is ultimately what led me to form the Lions Barber Collective: a charity that raises awareness and helps men all over the world that are suffering with mental illness, who may otherwise suffer in complete silence.
With the help of a dedicated team of incredible barbers, we are making barber shops the number one hangout spots for men in the UK, where they can share their problems with like-minded people in a non-clinical and non-judgemental environment.
As a result, the Lions Barber Collective has saved 11 men (that we know of) from suicide and making a decision that cannot be undone.
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Our work is crucial, especially as the mental health epidemic is not showing any signs of slowing down. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 and, in 2014, 76 per cent of all suicide victims in the UK were male.
For World Suicide Prevention Day last week, we commissioned a survey with premium men’s grooming brand The Bluebeards Revenge that discovered a staggering 58 per cent of UK men still don’t feel like they can open up about their mental health issues.
The research also proved that men are much more stressed today than they were ten years ago; with a staggering 62 per cent of those aged 35 or over saying they feel greater pressure in 2017 than they did in 2007.
As a barber, I am able to have a uniquely close relationship with my clients: they trust me to make them look and feel amazing and I touch intimate areas such as their heads, ears, and even their faces. Add to that the fact that I am often outside of their social circles and a sense of trust and confidentiality is quickly established.
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This trust has seen many of my clients open up to me to share their stresses and worries. Often mentioned are problems with work, money, health and more recently an over-exposure to social media. In fact, when surveyed, a worrying 35 per cent blamed social media for their stresses today.
The only way for us to improve the current situation men face is to provide them with safe havens that they feel comfortable enough to speak within.
Previously, this was provided by local pubs. But today, with the barbering industry booming: 69 per cent of men say their relationship with their barber is much better than their relationship with their landlord or lady.
Our survey also revealed that 92 per cent of men visit their barber at least once a month, with 10 per cent even admitting to making weekly trips to smarten up their styles and socialise. In comparison, just 70 per cent of men visit their local watering hole at least once a month.
With a larger customer base and a better relationship with our clients, The Lions Barber Collective is encouraging all barbers to educate themselves in how to recognise the signs of mental illness and depression in customers that are willing to talk about it.
Our Barber Talk movement is leading the way in providing the education that will help barbers to signpost customers to the appropriate professional help, such as charities like the Samaritans. Our work is a valuable stepping stone in helping men to break down the antiquated walls that suppress mental health.