Mental health & the barber


So there’s that word again… Mental health…We hear it thrown around more nowadays than a neck brush on a busy Saturday morning… But what is it, why is it such a new discussion point and how does the barber play their part?
Some may question why I’ve selected this topic for this issue and what has it got to do with barbering but simply it’s a very close sensitivity of mine and one that I have spent decades learning to deal with and dissect.
Recent pushes for more understanding and discussion have seen people, like myself, operate from a calmer headspace and for no other reason, than – it’s ok! It’s ok to be human and society is now learning to be cool with that.
As a young boy, like so many in the 70’s, I came from a broken family. Parents divorced when I was 3 and from then on, I grew up with an abusive stepfather, meaning daily life wasn’t much fun and very love deficient. Shuffled between parents, I ended up homeless at 16 and emotionally, I wore my childhood scars everywhere I went. With no aspirations to really be anything, understanding ‘why I was here’ was a daily question. Why had my parents bothered? How had they let me get hurt? How can I become normal?
School was my only constant stability, but nobody understood my demons and my inner loner ensured that my friendships had only so much depth to them. ‘Alone’ was my basic memorandum of operation and my intellect and nouse was being wasted as my energy was diverted to controlling the negative.
Luckily, Year 11 (the 2nd time) saw a careers advisor/school counselor pick up on my obvious need for support and locked my upcoming school holiday into a trial with a local hairdressing salon. I was instantly happy. My hands were busy and my head was concentrating on my hands and people were appreciating my fast developing hidden talent. By the 2nd year of my apprenticeship, I had 3 trophies for men’s hairdressing and a growing clientele, but more importantly – direction. Working as a glass collector at a local bar at nights (I couldn’t survive on an award apprentice wage of $126.80), I saved for monthly therapy. I had had a taste of a better life and wanted to ‘fix’ myself…little did I know it would be decades and many therapy disciplines later before I would understand simple educations around triggers & boundaries and that ‘I was OK’.
Exercise, good food and my work became my coping tools.
Off to Sydney to further my horizons, the nightlife quickly grabbed me and soon I hung up my scissors and was taken under the wing of Kings Cross’s more infamous nightclub operators. My new career flourished as my honed people skills, from years of doing hair, saw me become the perfect nightclub promotional manager. This fork in the road would see me forget my therapy training and find a newer interest in partying, drugs and alcohol.
Back into the abyss it was. Anxiety, the fear, became a new friend to my demons and luckily a dying bedside request from my grandmother snapped me back to reality.
I opened my first shop and I was back! I was saved by my clients. I created a strong following and thoroughly enjoyed maintaining every one of them. A down day would turn quickly with ‘hellos, handshakes and hugs’ from regular wearers of my work. The level of appreciation was intoxicating and medicinal.
This story could continue for pages as the trials and tribulations of business tested my head, my depression and my anxiety, and still does.
But that’s enough about me.
What is it that we can be doing as the purveyors of follicle freshness for this movement?
It’s hard when we all work to time frames so closely to stay profitable, but just taking a moment to get real with your customer is the best start. Learn them, live them, love them.
It takes five minutes of watching the news to see that people are ‘falling down’ everywhere. Road Rage, drug abuse and murder/suicides seem more prevalent than ever. Coping mechanisms need support and the time you dedicate to your client could remap their day.
I’ve said it before. A haircut can change your day. Get you paid. Get you laid and even make sure depression is slayed!
For the sufferer or simply just the person who has trouble understanding why they get down, take some time to learn what does and doesn’t work for you. Our body and mind are linked, so looking at diet and exercise are key. Smashing Maccas everyday and sitting in front of the tele with a six pack of stubbies every night isn’t going to help much. If you are having a hard time, sometimes the simplest things can turn you around.
Take a walk. Grab some fruit. But be proactive as things won’t fix themselves.
Find positive people. A wise person once said to me that we are the average of the five closest people in our lives. Food for thought! *Note to self – remove dickheads.
Turn off your social media and go visit some friends. No current social media platforms really have any provisions in place for protecting people with mental illness. Posts can be reported and removed, but the damage is already done by then.
I guess that some of the more important things I’d like to point out with this piece is that I refer to terms like ‘learning to deal with’, ‘educate myself’ and ‘triggers and boundaries’, because this is what it took for me to get right with mental illness. It angers me that people throw around Mental Health like it’s an excuse, when for me it was a case of understanding what created it, what to stay away from and how to make it my strength.
Create positive mental health and the negative will disappear. Support those that struggle and create quality time.

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