An inspirational Essex barber who recently met with Prince William to discuss men’s mental health projects has opened up about his dad’s suicide to help raise awareness surrounding the taboo topic.
Ken Hermes discussed the issues surrounding men’s mental health with the Duke of Cambridge in a Paddington barbershop in February, having just become an official ambassador for the Lions Barber Collective.
The Prince chatted to Ken at length during a visit to a barbershop in Paddington and said it important that men feel they have somebody who listens to their concerns, and compared mental health issues with physical illness.
Ken is now using his newly found job as a barber to help save lives and get more men to open up and talk about their personal issues. The latest figures show that suicide is still the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK.
British barber Tom Chapman set up the Lions Barber Collective mental health awareness and suicide prevention charity back in 2016.
Their aim is to turn barbershops into safe spaces for men using the opportunity of a regular haircut to start conversations about mental health. The group is having an enormous impact with men who traditional mental health services can struggle to reach.
Tom organises a professionally run training programme, which is teaching barbers to ‘recognise, talk, listen and advise’ clients and works with the Samaritans charity – signposting the services they offer to clients in need.
Previous research suggests that barbers are in a very unique position to help men in their battle with depression. A survey commissioned by the Lions Barber Collective and The Bluebeards Revenge male grooming brand revealed that more than half of the men in Britain now feel more comfortable discussing sensitive mental health issues such as depression with their barbers/hairdressers than their doctors.
The Bluebeards Revenge has also launched a new hair styling gel, with 50p from each tub sold going to The Lions Barber Collective; helping the charity to raise awareness and prevent male suicides all over the world. The inside of the product cartons also carries branded messaging from the charity, signposting men to the Samaritans charity to seek additional support.
Here is Ken’s story:
‘’ At 15 years old, my entire world changed. There was no note, no warning. One day I woke up and he wasn’t there anymore.’’
‘’It hit me really hard. My dad and I were best friends: we were so close. The night before he died, we had a normal night. We were smoking and drinking, I was playing his favourite songs on my guitar, we talked about everything, or so I thought.’’
‘’It felt that night like he was really wearing his heart on his sleeve, but he didn’t tell me how he was feeling. On the 9th of February 2006, I woke up for a day of secondary school like any other day. I was a bit pampered, and wanted beans on toast for breakfast, but it was so cold outside, and I begged my mum to get the beans from the garage.’’
‘’She was gone for a while and I heard a lot of screaming and crying. I tried to go in to the garage, but she wouldn’t let me, so I called my dad, but he didn’t answer. I noticed his van was still at home and that’s when I realised that she had found him.’’
‘’Suicide. A word that sends chills down your spine. But that’s what it was. I had no idea that my dad had depression, in fact, I probably wasn’t aware of what depression was. I often wonder, if he felt that he could express how he felt, would he still be alive today? I thought that we spoke openly, but I was only 15… way too young to carry the burden.’’
‘’I made a decision that I would not let my dad’s death be in vain, and if I could educate or support one person, and save one life, that his legacy would live on. I started with video logs sharing my story, which progressed to school assembly talks to help students identify with their own mental health.’’
‘’Now, 13 years on from my dad’s death and after battling crippling anxiety myself, I am extremely proud to be working alongside the UK’s most prolific barbers, along with Bluebeards Revenge, to support the message that “it’s ok not to be ok”. The Lions Barber Collective have been tackling the stigma and taboo of mental health and suicide, and I am privileged to work with them to break the barriers needed to help and support men.’’
‘’As barbers, we naturally provide a safe space for our clients to speak freely. Why not allow them to express how they feel? Together, we can signpost those in need, to the places they provide the best support. We will make it okay to talk, because mental health is not a weakness.’’
To make a donation or find out more about the fantastic work carried out by The Lions Barber Collective here.