We talk to Tom Chapman, Founder of The Lions Barber Collective and mental health.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and your journey to this point?
I started my career with Toni & Guy in 2002 before teaching myself barbering which required spending many hours of trial and error with clippers on my friends. I opened Tom Chapman Hair Design in Torquay, UK in 2011 and began educating two years later. Since then I’ve travelled all over the world to teach.
In September 2015 I founded The Lions Barber Collective, which started as a group of international barbers raising awareness for suicide prevention – prompted after a friend took his own life. The LBC campaigns for the awareness of mental wellbeing and suicide prevention as well, believing that the barbershop is a great, safe place for men to talk.
I now advocate for talking openly about mental health – I’ve delivered a TED Talk and discussed the subject on the BBC and Channel 4. I received a Points of Light award for my volunteer work from the UK Prime Minister Theresa May. I have written four books including a children’s book. My most recent book is How to Listen So Men will Talk: 4 Steps to Get Men Talking About Their Mental Health.
Tell us about your book and how that came about – what was the inspiration?
How to Listen So Men will Talk is an extension of the training course I developed for my industry, BarberTalk. The training started as a bespoke, first aid-style mental health training for the hair and beauty industry. The training is not designed to diagnose or prescribe solutions but to recognise when someone is struggling and be the support that person needs. I was then approached by other groups of people for training, such as taxi drivers, and this made me realise that the need for this knowledge went beyond one group of people. The book outlines the four steps:
- RECOGNISE the signs that someone may need help or may be suffering with their mental health.
- ASK the right questions to get them to open up.
- LISTEN with empathy and without judgement.
- HELP and support, making a plan WITH them.
Everyone can help and make a difference using the skills and techniques in the book.
What did you find most useful on your personal mental health journey?
On my own journey I’ve become more aware of not only my own mental wellbeing but of the mental health of people around me. It’s also made me realise that we need to take note and work out what each individual needs: there is no one size fits all solution or approach to mental health.
What were the moments of hope for you, in your own journey?
Setting up and running a charity focused on mental health means that the journey is a real roller coaster with so many ups and downs. The moments of hope for me come when I receive a personal message from someone who has used my training or books to help save someone’s life or that our work has saved their life. It is amazing to see the positive impact and know that you are literally changing – and saving – a life.
How are you addressing mental health in your own work now?
In my work with the charity, it is about creating a safe space to discuss mental health every day. It is especially important when you actually work as a mental health advocate! The Lions Barber Collective has a group of volunteers who act as a support group for each other. It is a safe space for people to open up about what they have heard and unload. Recently, we’ve had a barbershop sponsored by GymShark where we had some great but tough conversations. We use the volunteer support group to share what has been heard. It is about encouraging open conversation in that safe space.
How easy do you think it is to access relevant mental health support?
It is easier than people think. There is a lot of support: the key is finding what works for you. For some, that will be seeing your doctor to be prescribed medicine, while for others it will be a mixture of medicine and support groups or talking therapies. Many people who take part in our training are surprised by what is available. Many people believe the system is broken, but there is actually a lot on offer.
This doesn’t mean there couldn’t be improvements, especially in funding and also preventative measures. The issue is that people get to rock bottom before getting help. The best thing is to focus on positive wellbeing as a preventative measure. Especially with men.
Based on your personal experience, what changes do you think need to be made to the mental health system to ensure support is more relevant and accessible?
See above! I also think that education is key at a younger age to encourage people to build resilience and understand the importance of mental wellbeing.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with their mental health?
Don’t struggle alone. Reach out to a friend or family member, or professional. People are often worried about opening up for many reasons whether that may be how they will be seen by others or how it might impact their job or job perspectives. However, the other option is that it gets worse. Remember that people want to help you and that most people have been through some kind of trauma or hard time – no one will judge you.
If you have used the Hub of Hope (https://hubofhope.co.uk/) to find support or signpost others to support, can you tell us a bit about that?
The Hub of Hope is one of the resources that I always recommend. The directory allows you to find local services as you can search by geography and also by issue. It means you can find the best support for you. If you can only use one website, use Hub of Hope.
If you, today, could speak to yourself at your own lowest point, what would you tell yourself?
Time passes, things change. It’s hard as you are so caught up in it now, and it might seem like the end of the world, but it is a temporary problem. Most importantly: don’t suffer alone.
Tom Chapman’s latest book, How to Listen So Men will Talk: 4 Steps to Get Men Talking About Their Mental Health, is available now.<- Back to news