Award-winning barber Tom Chapman has written books, delivered TED Talks, presented an Amazon Prime documentary, and been featured all over the international press. Six years ago, Tom founded The Lions Barber Collective; a charity that raises awareness of mental illness and suicide prevention within the hair industry and beyond. Here, Tom talks to Timely about the mental health training offered by The Lions Barber Collective, the role of the charity, and ways in which industry professionals can look after their own mental wellbeing.

What is The Lions Barber Collective?

It’s a charity dedicated to raising awareness around suicide prevention. I founded it in 2015, after losing a close friend to suicide.   We’re an international group of barbers who help to raise awareness of mental illness.  We aim to prevent suicide by training other barbers to recognise the signs of mental illness in clients, and to signpost them to the support and resources they need. 

We teach you things that you can use every day.  In the hair and beauty industry, we’re taught about physical health, but not about mental health.  And yet we deal with people’s mental health every single day.  We’re at the highest and lowest points of people’s lives.  

The hair and beauty industry has such an amazing infrastructure; we’re across the smallest villages and the largest towns.  The Lions Barber Collective wants to utilise this to create nonclinical, nonjudgmental safe spaces.  Spaces where people feel comfortable talking about their mental health.  

What is the mental health training that you offer?

We have two types of training; BarberTalk and BarberTalk Lite.  BarberTalk is a four-hour training session, endorsed by the UK Hair and Beauty Industry Authority (HABIA).  We train hair professionals how to recognise the signs that someone may be struggling, how to ask the right direct questions, how to listen with empathy, and how to direct people to help.   We very consciously kept the training to a short session to make sure that it’s enjoyable and very usable.  

BarberTalk Lite is a free online alternative to the BarberTalk training.  Once you’ve completed either BarberTalk or BarberTalk Lite, you are added to our Lions Map so that people know where they can find a safe space.  

How can people access the training?

BarberTalk Lite is free and can be accessed by anyone, anywhere in the world, via The Lions Barber Collective website

The in-person training can be accessed on Eventbrite.  Just search for BarberTalk, and a list of available courses will come up.  We will be adding to this all the time, so if there isn’t currently a course in your area, do keep checking back.  

We try to get funding to enable us to deliver as many free courses as possible.  We’re very aware that, especially after the devastation of COVID-19, many people within the hair and beauty industry don’t have spare cash to pay for training.  

Is the training available to other beauty professionals? 

Yes, the online BarberTalk Lite training can be accessed by anyone.  And we’re in the process of tweaking the four-hour in-person BarberTalk training so that it applies to the entire hair and beauty industry.   We want the training to be accessible to everyone in the industry.  If just 20 people a week do our training, it goes on to impact 2.5 million conversations over the course of a year.  It saves lives. 

How can hair and beauty professionals look after their own mental health?

It’s vital that hair and beauty professionals look after their own wellbeing, not just that of their clients, especially when getting back to work after lockdown.  There are a few essential elements to looking after your own mental health, including connecting with others, taking time for yourself, and exercise. 

In terms of connecting with others, this means your family and friends.  At work, we connect with our clients constantly, which is great, but you must make sure you also take time to connect with the important people in your life. 

On the flipside, you need to take time for yourself; time out from everything else that is going on.  At work, we give a huge amount to other people.  And we tend to take on a lot.  So remember to be present, and to take some time out.  I highly recommend mindfulness as a grounding tool, and this doesn’t necessarily mean meditation, or breathing exercises, or awareness of your thoughts.  It can, of course, mean all of those things, but it can be a million other things too.  Pick what works for you.  It could be turning your phone off, it could be listening to music, it would be going for a walk. 

Similarly, exercise doesn’t need to mean going for a run.  Just do something to get moving.  It might be yoga, or weight training, or cycling, or walking, or horse riding.  The important thing is finding what’s right for you.   You could even join in with The Lions Barber Collective virtual event, called the Lions Run, which aims to get people moving and to raise funds for the charity. 

What is the Lions Run? 

It’s a group event, albeit a virtual one, based on the fact that a lion’s roar travels five miles.  You need to do five miles, and you can do it however you want, and take as long as you want.  You can run it, walk it, or cycle it.  And you can do it all in one go or you can break it down and complete it over different days.  To take part, sign up with JustGiving for Lions Barber Collective, raise at least £25, and then email details of your completed five miles to [email protected].  We’ll then send you a medal!  

Amazon Prime documentary; The £1.7 Million Haircut, BarberTalk Live; Tom, a Mental Health Trainer, Royal Foundation; Prince William meeting and interacting with Tom and The Lions Barber Collective ambassadors, TEDxExeter; Barbers, preventing suicide one hair cut at a time

Tell us about the Amazon Prime documentary about The Lions Barber Collective.

It’s called The £1.7 Million Haircut, and you can watch it for free on the Amazon Prime platform.  It tells the story of The Lions Barber Collective; of life lost and of life saved. It shows what we’re trying to do, the importance of what we’re doing, and why we need donations to be able to continue our work. 

How can people support The Lions Barber Collective?

If you want to make a donation, which would be incredible, you can do it on our website.  Or if you’d like to fundraise for us, you can download a fundraising pack.  Doing the BarberTalk Lite training is a fantastic thing to do, and just telling other people about us; making sure that people know we exist.  

Ultimately, the most powerful thing you can is to let somebody know it’s okay to talk to you.  That’s the most important thing you can do.  It’s hugely impactful to the people around you. And it can potentially save a life.