Men don't talk about mental health. Barbers are changing that.

Men don't talk about mental health. Barbers are changing that.

Barbershops are revolutionising men's mental health. A trim for your messy hair - and feelings? What's not to love?

Tanmoy Goswami
Listen to my voice letter

Trigger warning

Mentions suicide. Please see helpline information at the bottom of the piece.

"My barber was the one who could really bail me out of [the] mental agony that I had been going through. He was one of the few people in my life that became a mentor.” - Lorenzo Lewis, founder, The Confess Project, 'America's first mental health barbershop movement'

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It was at about this time two years ago that I finally had 'the moment' – I could no longer get on Zoom without the person on the other side pointing out that the hair on my head and my face had started to merge, like a lush tropical canopy but not half as soothing to the eye.

Even without those nudges, I often remembered my barber of 10 years during the lockdown, and not just because I missed his skills with the scissors and his signature robust head massage with cooling oil against the background of high-octane Tamil films dubbed in Hindi.

I thought about him because it suddenly struck me that apart from my twice-a-week therapy sessions, which the early chaos of lockdown had thrown haywire, the barbershop was my only reliable retreat, a sanctuary where I could prioritise my comfort, indulge my vanities, and low-key vent about life without guilt or shame.

The barbershop was my safe space before I knew the meaning of safe space. It isn't just me. Most men learn to trust the barber way sooner in life than their first encounter with a therapist. That is, if they ever get to therapy – men all over the world are famously allergic to talking about their mental health.

In therapy, you must learn to trust that you can share your most delicate feelings with a complete stranger and nothing awful would happen. In the barbershop, it's your literal neck that you surrender. Trust in the barber frequently pays off better than trust in the therapist: You will hear plenty of horror stories about people swearing off therapy because their therapist betrayed them. But I haven't met too many people who hate their barber.

So it makes sense that the humble neighbourhood barbershop is now being formally enlisted to help men shed their emotional baggage.

And the results are handsome.

Trauma informed haircuts*

Take The Confess Project in the US. Launched in 2016, 'America's first mental health barbershop movement' serves a community chronically underrepresented in traditional mental healthcare: Black men.

Nearly two-thirds of Black people reportedly see a mental health condition as a sign of personal weakness. It doesn't help that only 4% of psychologists in the US are Black. The Confess Project is making a dent in this narrative via its cadre of over 1,400 barbers across 47 cities, trained in active listening, positive communication, validation, and stigma reduction.

Lorenzo Lewis, the founder of The Confess Project, was born in prison to an incarcerated mother. As a kid Lewis loved hanging out at his aunt's vibrant salon in Little Rock, Arkansas. The barbershop supplied the crucial feeling of safety and community missing from his life.

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