Chatham barber organises training for others in industry to spot mental health issues

-Credit: (Image: SWNS)
-Credit: (Image: SWNS)


A barber is organising training for other hairdressers - so they can identity signs people are suffering with their mental health. Jake Cox, who has had his own mental health battles in recent years, thinks barbers are uniquely placed to spot people with issues.

The 29-year-old says barbers can be crucial in lending an ear to customers' struggles and pointing them toward professional help. In identifying potential problems and offering support at an early stage, barber Mr Cox - who runs the No Bad Days brand and barbershop, based in Kent - believes lives could be saved.

The business owner donates 10 per cent of all profits from merchandise and products to mental health charity Mind. "I've been a barber for over 10 years, and have always loved every element of my job," Mr Cox explained.

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"For me, I honestly believe it's the best job in the world - I love the conversations and connections you make with people." Mr Cox, a mental health first-aider after completing a course during lockdown, says his own struggles with anxiety in recent years persuaded him to centre his business, founded in 2020, around mental health.

He's now teamed up with the charity he credits with saving his life to offer one-day courses aimed at helping barbers improve listening skills and recognise signs that someone might be struggling with their mental health. But Mr Cox believes such training could also be beneficial to those working in similarly front-facing, interactive industries.

"Mind was there for me in my time of need," he said. "It's my way of giving back and raising awareness of the charity.

"It's an honour to work with them. They offered me a safe space when I felt I had nowhere to go.

"I think the training would benefit anyone who's in a position of care - people working in cafés, shops, tattoo artists... We're all in a position of care and trust.

"If you think about how many times we see our GPs compared to how many times we see our barbers or tattoo artists... They're the people who are going to notice these changes in a person.

"It's part of your duty of care as a barber to not only make customers look great, but feel great as well. Every time a person sits in that chair it's a transformation, of their hair and their mood.

"I've had so many enquiries from barbers all over the country about the sessions." Male mental health in particular is such an issue as studies show men are far less likely than women to discuss personal issues.

Male suicides also account for the majority of such deaths in the UK - accounting for three-quarters of suicides in 2022, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. Mr Cox has personal experience of this, as a member of his partner's family recently took his own life.

"A lot of blokes think it's not cool for them to talk about mental health," he continued. "Seeing the effects of suicide on people is harrowing.

"I want to get to a place where we can just talk openly about mental health. It's about creating a space where people feel comfortable."

Mr Cox says a barbershop, such as his on St Mary's Island in Chatham, can offer a safe space where men feel comfortable to talk about their troubles. He gives all his customers a consultation before cutting their hair, discussing their lives and tailoring their haircuts to who they are.

"It's a very intimate job; you're getting to know someone as a person," Mr Cox continued. "What other industries do you know where you walk into somewhere and 30 seconds later someone is touching your head?

"We're trusting that person with how you are going to look for the next few weeks. If you can create a calmer space where people feel they are listened to, they will naturally open up to you."

Mr Cox hopes the barbers' Mind sessions, the first of which takes place at St Mary's Community Centre on June 24, could soon be offered to those in other industries that could help identify mental health problems in customers. "Mind said they'd never seen this done before," he said.

"With my expertise in knowing how barbershops work, along with the mental health angle, it really works. I am not a healthcare professional and I'm not claiming I am one.

"Even after this one-day course, you're not going to be a trained counsellor. But it's about learning to be a good, active listener and being able to signpost people to the proper professionals.

"Mental health can be a really dark place, but it's not one simple route. It's a combination of looking at your overall life situation, acknowledging your issues and then fixing them."

Mr Cox also runs a No Bad Days podcast featuring famous customers such as Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Giarnni Regini-Moran and Ashley Glazebrook from Britain's Got Talent dance duo Twist and Pulse. Other customers include professional footballers from League One outfit Charlton Athletic FC and League Two team Gillingham FC, who also share their feelings whilst in the chair.

Mr Cox added: "If no-one speaks up, nothing's going to change - and these things have to change. If you can stop mental health problems at the root cause, it won't get that bad.

"If we can spot these early signs and make it more acceptable to talk about mental health, we can save some lives." A spokesperson for North Kent Mind said: "This one-day course will teach you how to recognise signs of someone struggling, improve your listening skills, and guide them towards relevant support services."

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