Mind My Hear, Hear My Mind
For years reports have been telling us that men from minority ethnic backgrounds are being failed by mental health services. We know that rates of admission into mental health wards and seclusion for minority ethnic groups is higher than the average. According to research and surveys, Black men report higher levels of dissatisfaction and experience harsher treatment and discrimination. This might lead you to question, do black and minority ethnic (BME) men feel safe within mental health settings? Or why should BME men even trust mental health services?
Along with the disparities in treatment, the idea of psychotherapy is considered taboo for many, however, this does not mean that BME community members don’t offload within other settings.
“Black man choose where to talk about their problems, in a barbershop or somewhere different.” - Millionhairs
The barbershop is often unconsciously perceived as a safe haven for men from minority ethnic backgrounds to talk about their problems, air their views in a non-judgemental space, share advice and learn about measures of intervention, all while receiving a trim, shape-up or shave. The shops serve as a cultural space where families, groups of friends and individuals connect with each other. Although the dynamics within every barbershop is different, a common feature is the freedom of speech and the general sense of togetherness, where men and also women of all backgrounds are able to bond and learn from each other.
In September 2015, we launched the pilot of Mind My Hair, Hear My Mind - a community photography project which explores the relationship between barbers and their clients. We chose photography as a medium to document interactions and capture moments within a number of barbershops across the London Borough of Croydon, and through conversations, we heard how a good trim can often serve to positively affect ones’ mood, release stress and lift spirits.
What we learned on our visits is that BME men DO talk about their mental health. They may not use the lingo or terms you might expect to hear in a counselling room but the essence is the same - you talk and someone is listening. In barbershops you find men open up about their daily stresses and problems – sometimes with their barber or among other customers in the shop.
“I’m a barber, also a shrink” – Cutters Barbers
“We’re not just barbers, we do things to help young people.” - Pampyhl
“Do you know how many people got problems in the home that come here and forget what’s on their minds by talking to somebody is who conscious. That’s what a black barber is.” - Millionhairs
The barbers we talked to are very aware of the role they have in their customers’ lives. They know their shops are more than about hair and recognise that the quality of the relationship they have with their customers is just as valuable as the quality of a haircut.
“Do you know how many ladies and men come into a barber shop and sit in a barber chair wanting to tell you certain things, to hear your advice so they can leave the shop feeling good.” - Millionhairs