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Creating community champions for mental health in Barber Shops

The Barbers for Life project initiated by the City of Launceston is turning barbers into mental health advocates.

No one is better placed to check in on a bloke’s welfare than a man with a set of clippers! Adding to the barber’s toolbox in Tasmania are techniques for checking in on a bloke.

“I have lost clients, personally,” The Kingsway Barbershop in Launceston owner Alex Toscan told Tasmania’s Primary Health Magazine (December 2023 issue). “Like maybe not noticed anything or missed the signs, and then you hear one day, they’re gone.”

Alex was one of the first Barbers to sign up for the Barbers for Life project, a community wellbeing project led by the City of Launceston with funding from the Australian Government through Primary Health Tasmania.

“This project aimed to build a support system for people beyond the emergency interventions of services that people may be more familiar with,” said City of Launceston community development officer Stephanie Armour.

“It helps those that are struggling, but it also builds the capacity of everyday people to become community champions.”

The Barbers for Life project was developed with Hobart-based barber Sid Davies, with input from former Australian Men’s Health Forum president Jonathan Bedloe, now a mental health trainer and vice president of Men’s Resources Tasmania.

Sid had his own mental health challenges and saw many clients suffering alone, divulging snippets of personal struggles with relationships, families and work during their brief time at the barber.

“Considering the statistics showing how many men are struggling, I realised the opportunity  I have to engage with people and have meaningful conversations, which can make a significant impact.”

The City of Launceston promoted the Barbers for Life initiative among local businesses, as barbers signed on to develop skills in mental first aid and to recognise the warning signs of a bloke in trouble.

“These guys are running businesses, they’re not mental health workers; they don’t need to be,” says Sid. “But now they can be allies within the community with the tools  and confidence to ask questions, and they have knowledge about services that can help further.”

In 2016, the Australian Government launched the National Suicide Prevention Trial to test community-led approaches that could help reduce suicide attempts and deaths. Tasmania was one of the trial sites, and Launceston was one of three local areas involved. It has continued to focus on suicide prevention activities  and community-led initiatives such as Barbers for Life, building on the project with social evenings and education events in hairdressing salons and other businesses.

Read the full story: Footy, weather and mental health in the barber’s chair


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