Veterans’ charity urges tattoo artists to take up mental health training offer

·3-min read
Tattoo artist Aaron Baillie working on veteran Scottie Lovegrove (Help for Heroes/PA)
Tattoo artist Aaron Baillie working on veteran Scottie Lovegrove (Help for Heroes/PA)

Hairdressers and tattoo artists are being encouraged by a veterans’ charity to take a short training course on how to spot and support suicidal clients.

Help For Heroes said there was “plenty of anecdotal evidence” that salon staff often provided “informal therapy” sessions for veterans struggling with their mental health by bonding with them as part of their daily work.

The charity is promoting a free 30-minute training course which anyone can access, set up by experts from The Armed Forces charity and the Zero Suicide Alliance.

Having gone through some really tough times during and after my military career, I am able to empathise with my customers, who become friends. I think tattooists are perfectly placed to take this training and learn how to spot signs when someone might be struggling

Tattoo artist and Army veteran Aaron Baillie

Help For Heroes said that one veteran, who wished to remain anonymous, explained how a tattoo artist had saved his life by bonding with him over extended sessions in the salon at a time when he had been contemplating suicide.

While getting a tattoo to commemorate fallen soldiers, the artist recognised that he was struggling with his mental health and extended his sessions over several days – even though the piece could have been completed in hours.

The veteran said this act of kindness allowed him to work through his thoughts and ultimately saved his life.

Aaron Baillie, a retired Royal Engineer with 22 years service and a tattoo artist for the veteran community in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, said his sessions often acted as informal therapy for clients.

Mr Baillie, who has taken the training course, said: “I regularly tattoo serving military and veterans and, a lot of the time, the tattoo appointments become almost therapy and venting sessions.

Tattoo artist Aaron Baillie (Help for Heroes/PA).
Tattoo artist Aaron Baillie (Help for Heroes/PA).

“Having gone through some really tough times during and after my military career, I am able to empathise with my customers, who become friends.

“I think tattooists are perfectly placed to take this training and learn how to spot signs when someone might be struggling.”

Kemsley Whittlesea, another veteran-turned-tattoo artist, from Maidstone in Kent, has also completed the training.

Mr Whittlesea, who served for 15 years before he was medically discharged with a shoulder injury, said: “Every time I’ve been on tour, I’ve ended up losing quite a few of my comrades, as well as friends, to suicide.

“As soon as I heard that Help For Heroes were doing a campaign to raise awareness of suicide prevention training with tattoo artists, the stars aligned, and I knew I had to jump on board to help in any way I could.”

Tattoao artist Kemsley Whittlesea (Help for Heroes/PA).
Tattoao artist Kemsley Whittlesea (Help for Heroes/PA).

One in three military veterans have felt suicidal in their lifetime, according to a YouGov survey of more than 8,300 people, including 455 veterans, commissioned by Help For Heroes in July 2022.

The charity said that former armed forces personnel were more likely to turn to family and friends for support than to an official therapist.

Its short training session aims to help people spot the signs of someone struggling with their mental health, including veterans, and on opening up conversations on the topic.

Help For Heroes is particularly urging people with roles in their communities and who find themselves regularly having lengthy conversations with clients to participate.

People can sign up for the session here – https://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/get-help/mental-health-and-wellbeing/suicide-awareness/