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Tom Chapman has been a barber for 15 years and is now the owner of Chapman Hair Design in Devon, UK, a men's only barbers.
His world was rocked in 2014 when a friend he'd known since he was young committed suicide at the age of 27. Tom was left not knowing what to do and what he could have done.
From then, he got together more than 20 of the top barbers in the UK and called them the Lions Barber Collective. They've dedicated themselves to helping raise money and awareness for a suicide prevention charity, as well as learning signs people may want to talk.
Tom told LADbible: "I knew nothing about any suicide prevention charities or where anyone in this state of mind could get help. If I didn't know and I had been affected then there must be a lot of people out there in the same position."
One of the initiatives spawned from the Lions Barber Collective is BarberTalk, which is a programme to train barbers how to recognise, talk, listen and advise their clients.
Credit: Facebook/Tom Chapman Hair Design
Tom says there is a great relationship between a barber and a customer, as he explained: "We have a level of trust and intimacy with any client, be that old or a first time visit. So in this position where we have time out from the world without any interruptions, for 30 minutes to one hour people tend to open up and talk to us naturally.
"However we also have to look after the barbers and safeguard them as some days can be pretty heavy."
The group has had some impressive feedback so far - Tom received the Points of Light Award, which recognises those trying to make a difference in the community. He has even had UK Prime Minister Theresa May personally endorse the Lions Barber Collective.
Suicide is an issue gripping nearly every corner of the globe
The statistics on suicide and mental health around the world are troubling. In Australia, figures from 2015 showed 8.3 people took their own lives every day. Four percent of the population will suffer from a major depressive episode in a 12-month window.
The UK has double the amount of suicide deaths compared to Australia and the female suicide rate is the highest it's been since 2011.
In Canada, suicide accounts for 24 percent of all deaths among 15-24-year-olds and 16 percent among 25-44-year-olds. The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.
Tom said: "The stats are the scariest thing of all. I spoke to a occupational therapist recently and they said that they only see people when they hit rock bottom and have lost everything.
"I hope we can prevent people getting this far by making safe places for people to offload before it builds up and becomes more serious."
Tom's project reflects a similar initiative introduced in the US
Legislation was amended last year in the state of Illinois so hairdressers would have to be trained to recognise the early warning signs of domestic violence in their clients.
Stylists won't be forced to report abuse but will learn how to look for symptoms, how to talk to their clients effectively and offer information on local services or crisis groups.
The new rule, which applies to hairstylists, nail technicians and aestheticians, means workers can't renew their licences unless they regularly complete the training sessions.
Lawmakers recognised the industry is considered a safe place for many women. The same can be said for male barbershops. While some are hothouses for endless banter, the salons can be a haven for guys to talk about their feelings.
The future for the collective
Tom and countless other mental health campaigners want to see an end to the stigma attached to talking about mental health - particularly in men.
He said: "I think the problem is we fear what people will think of us and we may be seen to be weak, as more people talk about mental health and suicide the stigma will come down and people will feel more comfortable to open up."
The barber hopes to soon be able to have a Head Lion in the USA, Canada and across Europe to help spread the word of the Lions Barber Collective. Once the team gets its charity status number then Tom is looking at setting up a mobile barbershop at sporting and live music events.
He told us: "We could use this to reach so many more people, lower the stigma and taboo and even educate them in the BarberTalk model."
In the meantime, he's looking for other barbershops to join their cause and wants supporters to put these stickers in their windows to let clients know it's a safe space to talk.
Credit: Facebook/Lions Barber Collective
He explained: "Its a little something that will hopefully spread and subliminally raise awareness by being in windows all over the world!"
Speaking of which, Tom is wasting no time in putting the Lions Barber Collective into the minds of barbers across the globe. He showed off the group at the World Government Summit in Dubai where Tom says they did really well to get their message out.
And it's full steam ahead from there. Tom said: "We also visited Stockholm for World Beard Day and are working on setting up The Swedish Lions as well as visiting Chicago, Nevada and California.
"I am also off to Brazil in May with fellow Brazilian Lion Sindi Devitte. Hopefully we will get to visit the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe who very sadly have the highest suicide rate in the world. Shockingly, they are 34 times more likely to kill themselves than the Brazilian national average."
You can join the cause by heading to the Collective's Facebook page here.
Be brave. Talk about it.
'U OK M8?' is an initiative from LADbible in partnership with a range of mental health charities which will feature a series of films and stories to raise awareness of mental health.
Samaritans: 116 123.
CALM: Outside London 0808 802 5858, inside London 0800 58 58 58.
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