National Eating Disorders Association
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The Lions Barber Collective: A Safe Space for Men to Talk About Mental Health

NEDA Staff

Each year, it is reported that one person in the UK completes suicide every 120 minutes. Most of those people are men. And suicide and eating disorders often intersect; for example, those suffering with anorexia are 31 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. 

The Lions Barber Collective is an international collective of top barbers from Ireland, the UK, and Holland who have come together to dedicate their time and services to suicide prevention. In partnership with Papyrus and Pieta House, suicide prevention and mental health charities in the UK and Ireland, the collective trains barbers to recognize signs of suicidal thoughts in their clients, listen to what they have to say in a nonjudgmental manner, and direct them to services and support. 

We chatted with Tom Chapman, founder of The Lions Barber Collective, about his collective and all that it’s doing to raise awareness of mental health issues in men and support those who are struggling. Check out our interview below!

NEDA: Why do you believe it’s so difficult or taboo for men to open up about how they are feeling or something that they are going through?

Tom Chapman: I think there is still this internal shame that men feel about being weak. I think that a majority of people would not judge someone else for sharing, but we ourselves fear we may be judged. Brene Brown has done an excellent study on men and shame, and she found that when men felt shame, it always went back to feeling weak. 

NEDA: Why do you think it’s so natural for people to open up with a barber or hairdresser?

TC: I have been in the hair industry for 15 years and my colleagues have always said and almost joked, "We don't only cut hair, but we are also psychiatrists or counselors!" I feel that when you are in the chair, you are relaxed, you have no external interruptions, and you have a huge level of trust in your barber. You know that what is said will stay within those four walls and not make it to your social circle.

NEDA: How did you come up with the concept behind #BarberTalk?

TC: The Barber Talk training developed because I myself attended a couple of the mental health and suicide prevention courses. Although all were great, they were over two days long and quite heavy in places, bringing up personal experiences with role play, which made a lot of people uncomfortable. Personally, I am not a big fan of that. Also, it was extremely hard to get barbers interested in these courses; therefore, I decided that we needed something more bespoke to barbers, just one day so it could be achieved on their day off and aimed at the unique position we are in as barbers. So this is what we are working on right now.

NEDA: What have been some of the most positive responses from clients?

TC: The most positive response we have had has been when someone told us we saved their life. It really doesn't get any better than that.

NEDA: What resources do you offer or suggest to clients that are struggling with mental illness?

TC: In my shop, we have resources such as cards for local and national helplines which we can give out to those who need them, along with our own Lions leaflets, which contain some information.

We also hold a local Walk as Lions event once a month, where we get together with others suffering in the area for a walk along our beautiful coast with a support group that is growing all the time.

In the shop, on the last Friday of the month, we have a Lion's Den drop-in support group during the last two hours of opening time. The shop is still open, but we have a volunteer support worker who comes in and is just present for anyone in the community who requires any info, support, or signposting. It is a completely non-judgmental, non-clinical environment, which has proven popular! This is something that barbers can now sign up for by sending us an email titled LIONS DENall they need is a volunteer support worker or counselor for two hours a month—that can really help the community!

NEDA: Are there plans to expand Barber Talk to other cities, countries, and continents?   

TC: Yes! I realize that this is a global problem and I hope to continue the work and spread the lions' roar across the world. We have already made contacts in Canada and Brazil, plus I will be travelling to both Norway and Sweden in September, so will hopefully set something up whilst there, too. We already have one guy who is signed up to hold a Lion's Den in Texas, USA!

We have had a great amount of interest from the USA and I feel it is a huge problem in the states as there is a death by suicide every 12.3 minutes.

NEDA: What have you learned about yourself from this work? 

TC: Well, I have learned that although I consider myself incredibly lucky and happy, we all have our mental wellbeing to look after. I have also realized how passionate and tenacious I can be when fighting for a cause that I believe to be my purpose. I love helping others whenever I can.

Photos via The Lions Barber Collective