A Listening Ear, How Barbers Can Help Men Open Up: Q&A with Craig Henderson

A LISTENING EAR, how barbers can help men open up: Q&A with craig henderson

We spoke to Craig Henderson who runs Craig’s Barber Shop in Bolton, UK which is an affiliate safe place of The Lions Barber Collective, a male suicide prevention and mental health awareness charity. Craig is trained and ready to listen to customers in need, and his shop is a relaxed, modern-themed unisex barbers, that is LGBT+ friendly. This means you’re welcome to open up when you visit the shop, and they won’t discriminate, just listen.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your work in encouraging people to speak out?

I’ve been a barber now for about 18 or 20 years in total. I’ve started working with a charity called The Lions Barber Collective. I’m in a Prospect Programme, which is basically a programme that guides you towards becoming an Ambassador for the charity. You start by raising awareness, reaching out to people, spreading as much information as you can. It’s all just about doing good things, really. There’s some time spent fundraising too and speaking with magazines. Getting the word out there is a big part of it. 

Another thing I’m doing is putting up posters and making signpost contacts available in the shop (eg. Samaritans, Papyrus, and people like that). It’s important because if people don’t want to talk to me, there’s now the option to say to someone: “I know you’re feeling a bit down today, pal. Why don’t you think about giving these a ring?”

It’s about being a support network. Because as barbers, we’re probably one of four types of professionals that get in your personal space. There’s your doctor, your dentist, and your optician, but with a barber, you break a barrier intimately. You can touch someone’s shoulder and say: “Come on, pal. It will be okay for you.” And barriers just break instantly, and they seem to open up more.

And I’m an open book as well. I’ll tell customers what I’ve been through. I’ll talk about my divorce and things like that. When people see me opening up, they think “oh right, Craig’s opening up. I think I should open up a bit more now too ‘cause he’s putting something on the table.”

I talk a lot about social anxiety because I have social anxiety myself, and I’m in therapy for it. I’m getting better as the weeks go on, and I’m ending my programme next week and it’s helped massively but of course I’m not fully over it. I have practices now though, to help me out and go forward getting better.

Photo Credit: Manchester Evening News

Q: How and why did it all begin?

Well it started off back last January. I started off with a petition to try to get barbers, hairdressers, and beauticians, anyone in this field, to get basic mental health training. Which Lions offer, but I didn’t know about Lions at this point. I think I ended up getting about six signatures. People were telling me I was being really stupid on social media, saying “it won’t go anywhere, and there’s nothing out there for you”. 

Then I joined an online group of barbers in the UK and when I posted the petition in there to get more signatures, Aaron Birch, one of Lions’ ambassadors contacted me to ask if I’d heard about the Lions Barber Collective. So, I did a bit of research into them and I found out who the founder was and I contacted him directly. I scrolled through LinkedIn to find him and ask “what’s all this about?”

He said, “we’re here to try to make the world free of suicide and help people out, and signpost them to correct facilities and where they can go.” I thought it sounded like a great charity, I wanted to be right up there with him, I wanted to be an Ambassador and I have my own barber shop so it seemed like a good thing to do.

And he said, “well you can become an Ambassador, but you have to do the Prospect Programme first”, like I mentioned. So I’ve done that. And ever since then, it’s just escalated to a massive proportion. I’ve reached out to so many different outlets to make as much noise about it as I can because, it’s just a simple idea, but it goes a really long way. There’s hundreds of barbers in the country and if every barber can get on this and do a little bit of listening to the customer, even if it’s after business hours, it’s just ten minutes of their time to make so much difference.

“It’s about being a support network. Because as barbers, we’re probably one of four types of professionals that get in your personal space.”

Q: Why do you think it's so difficult for men to talk about their mental health?

It’s a big question to answer. It’s a difficult way to word it as well, but one of the best ways of describing it is because of the way we were brought up as men. We were all designed to just go out and hunt. Going back as far as caveman times, men are told not to feel, not to have any emotions, just to put food on the table.

And there’s a lot more pressure going on in the world now too. It’s ridiculous. Things like social media, normal media, everyone’s trying to outdo one another in every way at the minute. About their looks, about what they want to be, they’re aspiring to be like people that they see on TV and in magazines. More than ever now men are suffering with anorexia. And there’s problems with steroids, like one of the kids who comes to talk to me about. It’s a difficult world we’re living in.

I’ve had a lot of people reach out now since I’ve done newspaper articles, and been on TV, and people ring me up and they said that they need a chat but they haven’t got any money. Maybe because they’re in a massive amount of debt or something, and they ask if they can come down after hours and have a chat. I mean, ten minutes out of my time is nothing, if I can make a difference to set change or tell them about somewhere else that can help too. It’s all about not scaring them off too. Just giving them that olive branch to build that trust.

Photo Credit: Manchester Evening News

Q: How can we encourage other barbers and professionals to take up an important role like this?

I think the more I tell different media and the more people get aware of what the Lions Barbers are doing, then hopefully others will jump onto these simple things. They make a massive difference, and it’s nothing “out there”, it’s nothing dramatic to get involved with. The Lions Barbers do workshops, it costs £127 to train one barber up and that all comes from fundraising and the skills training I have had, it’s so impressive. There were so many things I didn’t even know about before this. I didn’t know about things like Papyrus, even! And now I can reach out to them as well and they’ll

send useful material down to the shop. It’s great to have this information now and be able to pass it on to customers. Because I’ve had customers die by suicide and from drug abuse and alcohol abuse. But now I’ve got all these little notes around my desk, for alcoholics anonymous or drug rehabilitation clinics, and I can tell people to give them a ring. I find that instead of giving them a card sometimes, if you jot it down, it’s even more personal. It’s like you’ve gone and researched it and made it personal just for them.

Q: It must be really difficult to deal with such intense things in the work day. How do you take care of yourself?

I’m pretty good at just being able to let things go. I’ve also got a very supportive partner of 6 years and, she suffers with anxiety too so we understand each other, when things get a bit too much.

I retain the information, but I don’t let it swallow me up. Unless it’s something much more serious where I need to really step in and get involved with something. In cases like that I’ll often talk to one of their mates. I’ll say that someone’s in a dark place at the minute. I’ll say do you mind checking in on your mate. Do you mind ringing up, and letting emergency services know that he’s a bit volatile, or see if you can comfort him or get someone else out to him.

There’s difficult stuff like that, but otherwise, I’ve got the ability to just let stuff lie. I always remember to pick up the conversation when people come back though, I remember them, and remember what they’ve been saying. That builds trust.

You can find out more about The Lions Barber Collective via their website https://www.thelionsbarbercollective.com/  or follow them on social media – Twitter: @TheLionsBarbers   Instagram: @TheLionsBarbers   Facebook: The Lions Barber Collective

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