Who should do MHFA? Part 1: Barbers, Hairdressers, Beauticians…

I got married a few years ago. If you’ve met me or my husband we might have mentioned it. It was awesome. Stressful, scary, and really hard work, but awesome. There are lots of things mental health related that I could talk about from that day, and the period before and after, but one thing I learnt was about the value of self care, and that getting your nails done is not necessarily just getting your nails done.

I’ve never really spent a lot of money on my appearance. Don’t have a lot of money to spend, but even if I did I never really saw the point of some of the things “ladies” will do to themselves in the name of glamour. But seeing as I was going to be the centre of attention, I started to give a bit more thought and preparation into my scruffy self. And I learnt something.  Not only did have nice hair and nails and a lack of a moustache make me feel a bit better about myself, a little boost (because I’m worth it) – fewer prompts for the demons in my head to say “God, look at your hair, you can’t even look after yourself”, but also that the interaction with the stylist, beautician, nail technician – could be healing in itself.

Forced to spend this short space of time with a person, you get to talking. Many people in these professions are skilled already in the art of talking. And it is an art. And in getting people to talk to them. The ubiquitous “Going anywhere nice this year” – is quite a well crafted question. Not only is it something few people would feel awkward talking about, but it’s also something that you will usually be looking forward to and talk about with enthusiasm. Even if the answer is no – you can then talk about where you went last. But actually I found the conversations ran deeper than that. Possibly because when asked what I did, it prompted discussion of mental health, or the health service. But whatever the case, we got on to all things, relationships with parents / family / partner, illness, politics. It was almost therapy. In fact if I ever do finish qualifying as a counsellor I am definitely going to learn how to do nails too so I can offer a value added service. Maybe.

So while at first glance, you might not think someone working down the local salon would have much call for learning about mental health, or what help is available, or how to help someone who’s in distress – actually, they could be exactly the thing for hairdressers, beauty therapists, nail technicians, etc. and barbers.  Barbers especially – being one of the only places where a man will go and look after himself. Men are notoriously bad at seeking help – with physical health even, so imagine what they – you – are like about mental health. But they get their hair cut, or their beards tended to sometimes. So there’s an in. The story below shows a wonderful bunch of Barbers who get it – who have started to try and make a difference. Get people talking, creating safe spaces where it feels OK to say, no, actually I’m not OK. Things are a bit rubbish at the moment.



If you see someone regularly, but not every day – you can notice more easily sometimes when people are not themselves. Or maybe they don’t turn up, when it’s usually every week. And finding a way to say – “Are you OK mate? You seem a bit down” – might

image by flickr user fernando barber – CC BY 2.0 license




help them enormously. You being someone neutral, not family, not doctor – might make it less intimidating to talk a little, and give voice to feelings they have been bottling up.

Men are more likely to self medicate with drink or drugs, than go to the doctors and talk about anxiety or depression. Men are also more likely to die from suicide. We really need to talk about Kevin. And Steve, and Mark, and Sandeep, and Joe, and Mohammed, and …

So if you want to help but are not sure you understand things enough, or where to start – Mental Health First Aid training can help:


Image by flickr user Nick Kenrick CCBY 2.0 License

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