Barbers now being trained to spot clients with troubled minds

Is necessity or curiosity the mother of innovation? Sometimes good old common sense is the driving factor, and there will be no Nobel prize for seeing the obvious. That, however, is what’s behind a new development in barber shops and hair salons.

What’s the buzz? It’s that barbers and hairdressers are be trained to detect mental health problems among the clients sitting in their chairs. It makes perfect sense. People regularly confide in their trusted barber or hairdresser the most personal details of their lives. And these chats are enough to detect signs of troubled mental health. With a small amount of training, hair stylists can help direct their customers to sources of support.

Using barbers and hairdressers as a portal to mental health assistance appears to be a growing trend in several countries including the U.K, U.S., and Canada. As Daniel Reale-Chin recently reported in The Globe and Mail, groups like Black Mental Health Canada (BMHC) are training barbers to become first responders to members of their communities. BMHC deserves credit for applying a little common sense, something as uncommon these days as the dodo bird.

Past Gifford-Jones columns have lauded taxicab drivers for having more old-fashioned horse sense than some doctors. Taxicab drivers and barbers are often wise philosophers and astute observers. They usually talk about and pass along sound opinions on many current affairs. Importantly, they are experienced in listening. There’s no doubt they can be effective in detecting early symptoms of stress, unusual behaviour, and mental anguish among their customers.

One of the great problems of mental illness is the stigma and fear of others knowing that you’re suffering from this problem.  It will always be the stumbling block to early diagnosis. But being in a barber’s chair or sitting in a hairdressing salon is the right atmosphere to allow those with mental difficulties to unwind and inform their barber, or hairdresser, that something is disturbing their well being.

Moreover, many people build a trusted relationship with their hair stylist. You can talk about what’s eating you day after day without the whole world knowing. The very fact that your normally polished exterior is removed in the salon mirror while having your hair done may facilitate the sense of a reality check. The trusted barber offers a private, safe place to hint that you’re not as calm and collected on the outside as it appears when the polish is on.

Alice Wiafe is a registered psychotherapist and president of BMHC. The aim of this charity is to improve mental health within the Black community. As reported by Real-Chin, she says that the number of Black people suffering from mental health challenges is even higher than found in surveys like the one conducted by Statistics Canada, in which 27.9 per cent of Black visible-minority respondents self-reported fair or poor mental health compared with 22.9 per cent of white respondents. Wiafe notes, Black people need a little prodding to tell the truth about their mental health.

Taking the initiative to see a mental health specialist, or finding such services, can be a real roadblock. So training barbers, hairdressers, taxicab drivers, and even bartenders to help address this problem is an innovative move. BMHC trains barbers and hairdressers to tread carefully on this matter. They should only discuss mental health if they sense clients want to discuss what troubles them.

Now the key is to make sure sufficient services are available to handle the certain uptick in demand and referrals.

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