Colleges are starting to offer suicide prevention training to their barbering and hairdressing students’ courses.
A charity called the Lions Barber Collective trains barbers to use their position of trust with clients to look out for signs of depression and suicidal thoughts and to refer those in need to agencies for further support.
South Devon College and Milton Keynes College have both partnered with the charity to form ‘Lions Barber Academies’ – a suicide prevention training programmes that will be incorporated into the colleges’ courses.
The charity told FE Week it also has plans to develop a VTCT (Vocational Training Charitable Trust) qualification which could be taught at other colleges.
Tom Chapman, the Lions Barber Collective’s founder, is a former student of South Devon College and was inspired to start the charity after losing a close friend to suicide in 2014.
“I was completely unaware that he was struggling,” he told FE Week. “At his funeral, at the crematorium, it was so busy that there was not enough space for people to sit down. The room was overflowing and spilling out into the foyer and beyond, because there were so many people there who wanted to say goodbye to him, who loved him and cared for him.
“It made me think, if he had all these people who loved him and he thought the only option was suicide, how many people are out there struggling alone?”
Chapman told FE Week that the Lions Barber Academy began as a one-off project to raise awareness around suicide prevention. But he quickly realised that barbers were in a unique position to speak with people about their mental health.
“I’ve had people sit in my chair and tell me about everything from first dates to engagements to weddings to babies,” he said.
“All of those positive things, but I’ve also been there for the divorces, the miscarriages, the affairs, the redundancies, the funerals. We are part of people’s lives. I’ve been cutting people’s hair for 20 years, but I never had any training around that.”
Chapman said he is working with the VTCT to turn the ‘academy’ training he offers into a qualification that can be adopted by other colleges and hopes this will be available later this year.
There were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK in 2018 and 75 per cent of UK suicides are men. Statistics from the Lions Barber Collective said that one barber has the potential to see up to 200 people per week, 800 per month and 9,600 opportunities to talk in a year.
Maria Woodger, assistant principal at South Devon College, told FE Week: “Mental health is hugely important to us as a college – even more so now after Covid.
“Mental health support is really fundamental for us and when we heard about Tom’s Lions Barber Academy, of course we wanted to be part of that. We jumped at the chance of being one of the first in the country to actually do that.”
Milton Keynes College is also working with the Lions Barber Collective to offer a Lions Barber Academy. In January this year the Lions Barber Collective gave the college an award for their work around mental health training for barbers.
Speaking after winning the award, executive head of school at the college Maria Bowness said the institution will be offering the training to hairdressing and beauty students as well as those learning to be barbers on top of the regular curriculum.
“The relationship between such professionals and their customers can be a very intimate one, and people will sometimes open up about their struggles when sitting in a barber’s chair in ways they otherwise wouldn’t,” she said.