An interview with Sarah* and Seema** who will be running free workshops with Barbers later in the year

What sparked the idea of doing this Barber project?

First, we ran a project with hairdressers called ‘Cut it Out.’*** A lot of hairdressers spoke about seeing signs of domestic abuse in their clients and wanted to know what they could do. After ‘Cut it Out’ we were asked if we could do something similar with men. Speaking with barbers we got a better understanding of what issues men talk about with their barber and what barbers want to learn to feel more confident in responding to these situations.

Why Barbers?

When men go and see a barber they are trusting that person. It’s quite intimate to have someone that close in your personal space. Also sometimes it’s easier to talk when you’re not making direct eye contact or sitting directly across from someone. Barbers are skilled at making people feel comfortable and cared for. For some men, they might not have many relationships where they can open up.

What are some of the issues facing men today?

Men’s mental health is increasingly getting on the agenda. There’s an understanding that the ways men are told they ‘should be’ is hurting men and the people they are close to.  Men are supposed to have the answers and solutions, to be the provider, to have it all together and under control, to be tough and not show their feelings. They’re told to be like this from a young age. But then it doesn’t work and ends up being limiting and harmful for men and their families and relationships. When men can’t live up to these ideas they may experience a sense of failure or humiliation. They may also have been told that they should handle it on their own and not reach out for help. So too often men end up either beating themselves up and even suiciding, turning to drugs and alcohol, or being abusive to their partners and family.

What are the clues that someone might be having a hard time with their mental health?

And what might a Barber say or do in that situation?

People will often give a little hint that they are struggling with something and see how you respond before saying anything more.  Without thinking, we might brush something off, downplay it, or encourage someone to look on the positive side. This is a dead-end to someone opening up further, sharing more or taking steps to get help. Showing that you’re willing to listen is really important. Some helpful responses include validation, for example: “sounds hard” and affirming the person for sharing, for example: “I’m glad you told me.” Let the person know that they are not alone and that help is available. You can encourage men to talk to their GP or to reach out to the services listed below. Knowing that you care can make a big difference when someone feels overwhelmed and alone.

What are some clues that someone might be behaving in ways that are harmful to their family? And what might a Barber say or do in that situation?

It’s unlikely that a man will talk openly about the things he’s said or done at home that he’s not proud of. The hints you might get are the ways that he talks about his partner or women in general. Men are more likely to be using violence in the home if they have rigid ideas about what women should or shouldn’t be doing, if they are self-focussed and have a strong view of themselves as a victim, or if they have negative views about women in general. These will most likely be said subtly rather than outright. These ideas might run deep and are difficult to shift in one conversation. However, we know that what people believe is shaped by what people around them believe, so how you respond can make a real difference.

If a man makes a put down of someone else, you can keep a conversation going without siding with him by connecting with his feeling about a situation without commenting or agreeing with his take on the situation. You can direct it back to asking what he’s doing to look after himself.  You can also respond by speaking about your own life, relationships and values and the importance of equal and respectful relationships for you.

You can also ask questions that gently ask him to put himself in her shoes. For example – “how is she going now she has three kids under five at home – that must be a handful?”. We can be tempted to pat people on the back, agree with them and make them feel good about themselves even when they’re acting out of line with their own values. It’s harder and kinder to be able to have those conversations which really help people be the best they can be, as men, as partners and as fathers.

And what’s more – you get to walk away proud – that you lived by what is important to you and did your bit to make the world a better place.

Further information

Lifeline 13 11 14 (24/7)

Beyond Blue 1300 224 636

Mensline 1300 789 978

Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491

Mentoring Men 1300 583 925

Mates in Construction 1300 642 111

National Debt Helpline 1800 011 511

FCAN Financial Counselling 1300 914 408

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

For clients needing help to ‘Stick to their Orders:’

Barbers talking about this stuff:

If you’re interested in attending a face-to-face session in Newcastle NSW, contact:

* Sarah is a counsellor who works with men and their families, as well as delivering training and supporting communities to respond to harm.

**Seema coordinates the Hunter CLSD – a partnership of legal and non-legal services supporting communities facing disadvantage in the region.

*** ‘Cut It Out’ is a CLSD program, modelled on the HaiR-3Rs training from EDVOS in Victoria:

Cut It Out, like HaiR-3Rs, aimed to: Increase the capacity of salon professionals to Recognise signs of abuse; Respond to the client appropriately and Refer/support a client who may be experiencing family violence.