London’s barbers will soon be providing mental health support to young businessmen in hopes of slowing a trend of suicide among the city’s white collar workers. The City of London Corporation initiative banks on the unique relationship men build with their hair care professionals, leaning on open barber chair dialogue to reveal issues they tend to keep to themselves.
Based on an international program called BarberTalk, the city sponsored the initiative in Central London after seeing 153 suicide attempts in just 12 months. The program trains barbers to help clients open up while in their chair, truly listen and then offer suggestions to contact professional mental health groups when necessary. That could be an enormous help to the 450,000 men working in high-stress positions in the city’s powerful financial district, many of whom are considered at risk for suicide.
Recent statistics from the UK note that suicide is the leading cause of death for men less than 50 years old. A startling 26 percent of British men between the ages of 20 and 34 kill themselves each year. That number only drops to 13 percent for men aged 35 to 50-years old. The reasons for the British suicide rate can only be guessed at, but for those in the financial district in London, research points towards work issues. The suggestion is that stress from highly competitive positions in corporate culture, paired with a reluctance to show vulnerability about personal problems in conversation with coworkers or friends, combines to create a pervasive depression.
The hope of the London initiative is that barbers, being essentially intimate strangers, might just fill a crucial gap between men suffering depression and the help they are encouraged to find. Where a man may not open up to a co-worker he sees every day, he may feel comfortable enough to talk about mental health issues with a barber, particularly if that barber is trained to guide the conversation into those areas.
If the initiative helps, it could be beneficial domestically as well. The suicide rate for men in the U.S. is also extraordinarily high. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death between the ages of 10 and 34-years-old where it is supplanted by heart disease. Which means that your barber might just be asking you about your mental health in the near future. Go ahead and talk to him. He’s a good guy.