I lost a good friend to suicide; I spoke to him days before he took his own life and I knew nothing. I didn't pick up on it and he didn't share anything with me. How could this happen? Is it because of the stigma and taboo around suicide and mental health? Is it because of the stereotype that men should be strong?
At his funeral I had never seen so many people so upset and confused as to how this person they loved could take their life seemingly without warning. At his wake I spoke to our friends and, realising that we needed to do something, I founded The Lions Barber Collective. My aim was to work towards destroying the stigma and taboo around mental health and towards the huge goal of 0% suicide. I knew nothing about any existing organisations that existed to help others in this area.
Lasting societal expectations that men should be strong and feel ashamed of being seen to be weak, I feel makes it hard for men to talk to one another and open up. However I do think that this is something that we change; many people who have opened up via The Lions or online or even to myself personally, the response has been of nothing but support and praise. This is a fantastic reaction that makes me believe that with little encouragement people will open up more often. The biggest thing I have done is publicly let people know it is OK to talk to me!
Everyone's problems are different, and it's important not to judge. Sometimes you may hear about something that for you personally wouldn't seem too challenging, and other times it can be something horrendous or a build up of things over time and you wonder how they kept it together for so long. The most vital thing here is listening without judgement. Simply doing this could prevent worsening mental illness or suicide, as men are able to release the pressure they are under regularly, rather than letting it build up.
To train our barbers at the Lions Barber Collective, we have organised Mental Health First Aid training and attended Assist suicide intervention training. This has lead to me develop BarberTalk training with Public Health UK, a one-day bespoke to barbering mental health awareness and signposting course. We have trialed this and are now finalising the details. We have also been into schools and spoken to hundreds of students to help educate and raise awareness too. Local prisons have also expressed huge interest in training their barbering students, which is a very exciting prospect!
Founding the Lions Barber Collective has had an impact on me personally. I think I could maybe talk more often as I am personally taking in a lot of information, and spending a lot of time talking about depression and other mental health difficulties. I do need to offload sometimes as well. I have an amazingly supportive wife who has supported me through all of this, without her I don't know what I would have done. We also have a supportive group with our Lions Ambassadors and we share all of our issues, worries and thoughts via a Facebook group chat. It's important for everyone to know they're not alone.