Waiting on the sofa, I hear a woman explaining that she has avoided a haircut for two years. Half hidden beneath her mane, she explains her story to Lisa Everest of the Hello Hair pop up. We are at Normal? Festival of the Brain, exploring mental health and the wonders of the mind. Perhaps not the most expected location for a trim, but the Folkestone barber has set up in the Quarterhouse foyer for drop-ins. Finding myself mid-conversation with Lisa, opening up about the psychological history of choices behind my own mop, I suddenly understand exactly why she is here.
Lisa is incredibly easy to talk too. The perception of the hairdresser as synonymous to the therapist is a normative perspective from a female standpoint. The barber as therapist in male culture is also becoming a more widely recognised concept. Statistically speaking, 53% of men are more likely to talk to their barber about personal problems such as mental health. 71% of men rate their relationship with their barber as good or very good, in comparison to 59% who rate their relationship with their doctor as just average or even poor. With suicide now the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK, this difference might be important.
Why then the barber, the hairdresser? Think of confession; the priest hidden behind a veil so that we are confident in revealing our innermost sins to a faceless entity. Now consider the hairdresser poised behind us; they often address us in the mirror, asking through the veil of our reflection how our day is going. And then we place our head in their hands.
Tom Chapman founded the Lions Barber Collective following the suicide of a close friend. His initiative ‘BarberTalk’ trains barbers on how to recognise the symptoms of mental illness and ways to engage with their male clientele on topics including mental health. Kent and Medway has a higher rate of male suicide than the national average, In 2014 there were 163 official suicides in Kent, of which 79% were men, with the majority of the men having reportedly no contact with mental health services prior to taking their lives
Perceived masculinity; the norms of male-ness as defined by society and the shame felt when standards are not met is often seen as a barrier to men seeking help. This safe space of the barber has clearly been embraced as an important development in our ability as a society to approach mental health. This unthreatening zone allows us to leave with our heads a little lighter.
I ask Lisa about how the weekend has gone. More than usual, she tells me, she has felt that there is almost an expectancy that her drop-ins are there to open up; having read the rationale for appearance of the pop-up, attendees are more willing to adopt the chair as a refuge. Of course, some have just come for a trim. (BB)
- Bex Bell
Links Relevant to This Diagnosis:
Hello Hair - https://www.facebook.com/hellohairfolkestone/
Lions Barbers Collective - https://www.facebook.com/TheLionsBarberCollective/
Releasing the Pressure Kent - Suicide Prevention Program
The Bluebeards Revenge - Mental Health and Barbering