How black barbers in London are giving poor mental health the chop

Richard Johnson may come armed with the package to tame an unruly afro right into a precision fade, however his toolset comprises rather more than clippers and a comb.

He’s a part-time barber, a counsellor, a listener, and now – beneath a brand new initiative pioneered by Islington council in north London – a psychological well being first aider bettering aspirations for younger black males and boys.

“I’m not simply reducing hair – it’s a counselling session,” stated Johnson in-between appointments. “My clients know what’s occurring, they know what they’re coming for.”

Black barber outlets have lengthy been about extra than simply maintaining appearances. Johnson says that for black males younger and previous, they fulfil the position of pubs and golf equipment.

“As a child, it’s only a place to get your hair lower, however by your late teenagers it’s extra of a social factor,” he stated. “A mixed-generation atmosphere the place black males can speak to one another.”

That makes them ripe for grassroots psychological well being intervention, and now 5 Islington barbers, Johnson amongst them, have been educated within the crucial expertise.

A four-day intensive coaching course has taught them tips on how to speak and take heed to clients about psychological well being points, tips on how to choose up on warning indicators and direct them to providers the place they’ll discover the assistance that they want.

“I don’t assume black persons are afraid of opening up, we’re very vocal about our emotions,” he stated. “I see individuals on their good days and in addition on their dangerous days. That’s the character of the barber’s chair.

“However I do assume there’s a concern of being judged, of being given medicine that may not be best for you, and even of being sectioned.”

These fears are justified by statistics. Islington council says two-thirds of faculty exclusions are black pupils, and 60 per cent of black individuals in England really feel they’re handled with much less courtesy due to their ethnicity.

I’m not simply reducing hair – it’s a counselling session

These inequalities, says the authority, manifest in poor psychological well being. Black males in Britain are 17 instances extra possible than white males to be recognized with a critical psychological sickness, and 4 instances extra more likely to be sectioned beneath the Psychological Well being Act.

Islington’s Barbers Venture is a part of its Young Black Men and Mental Health programme, funded with £1.6m from the NHS and the Violence Discount Unit.

It consists of work in colleges and cultural competency coaching for police, GPs, social care and lecturers. And, in fact, there’s all the time the restorative energy of a bit of non-public grooming courtesy of Johnson’s calm, succesful arms.

“On the finish of it, you are feeling good. You’ve moved up from possibly a 5 to a seven in seems,” he laughed. “Truthfully – we do miracles generally. Clients go away feeling nice and are available again wanting extra.”

Fundamental picture: Martine Severin/iStock