With barbers and hair salons expected to reopen their doors next month, a charity is on a mission to get barbers talking to their customers about mental health.

To mark Men’s Health Week, Oxfordshire County Council is supporting The Lions Barber Collective, a charity that works to prevent suicide across the county.

It has launched a training programme called BarberTalk in a bid to help hair stylists create judgement-free, safe spaces for men to open up and talk about their mental health as they get their hair cut.

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After losing a friend to suicide, Torquay-based barber Tom Chapman founded the charity, recognising that barbers are often a trusted confidant and friendly ear to their customers.

He has worked with healthcare professionals to develop the clinically backed training programme which will be delivered in the next year to Oxfordshire hair stylists so they can recognise symptoms of depression.

Mr Chapman said: “It’s estimated that those in the hair industry listen for nearly 2,000 hours a year -that’s a lot of time. Maybe there’s something special we can do with that time.

“The goals of The Lions Barber Collective are to raise awareness. By doing this we appear at industry events, speaking and letting barbers know how privileged they are and what a fantastic opportunity they have to look after the most important people in their lives - the clients - the ones who pay for the roof over their heads and the business they have.

“The second one is to hopefully educate barbers through BarberTalk. We aim to be able to arm barbers with the ability to recognise the signs.

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“It’s not about making barbers into counsellors, it’s about befriending our client, looking out for one another and becoming good listeners.”

BarberTalk trains barbers to recognise when their client might be struggling; ask direct questions regarding their mental health; listen without judgment and with empathy; and help signpost them to local services.

Donna Husband, head of Public Health Programmes and Chair for Oxfordshire Suicide Prevention Multi-Agency at Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Everybody in Oxfordshire has a role to play in reducing the number of suicides in the County.

“By bringing The Lions Barber Collective to Oxfordshire we can focus on our suicide prevention work for men by creating safe places for them to open up and share what worries them - at the right place, at the right time and to the right people.”

Someone in the UK takes their own life every 120 minutes and 75 per cent of them are men. In Oxfordshire, four out of every five deaths from suicide are male.

The Lions Barber Collective was commissioned to start delivering the training programme before the coronavirus pandemic and looks forward to the reopening of hairdressers, in line with Government rules.

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Since its inception in 2015, The Lions Barber Collective has grown rapidly into a movement that has attracted interest from barbers all over the world. For more information, go to www.thelionsbarbercollective.com.

Anyone feeling suicidal can call the Samaritans on 116 123.