Talking about loneliness this Mental Health Awareness Week

Residents are being encouraged to follow in the footsteps of local hairdressers and barbers and think about how they can help those that may be feeling lonely as Oxfordshire County Council marks Mental Health Awareness Week (9 - 16 May).

Mental health problems can affect anyone, at any time and one in four people will experience some form of mental distress during their lifetime. This can include depression, anxiety, panic disorders and eating disorders, as well as conditions such as bipolar and schizophrenia.

The national theme for this Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness: the impact it has on mental wellbeing, and the practical steps that can be taken to address it.

 The Lions Barbers Collective

For so many people, a visit to a barber or hairdresser is an opportunity to speak to somebody and sometimes open up about how they are feeling. The Lions Barbers Collective has been training hair professionals in Oxfordshire to ‘recognise, ask, listen’ and help those in their chairs.

 Leanne Spriggle Hughes from Witney has been involved with the Lions Barber Collective since October 2019 as an ambassador and she now supports volunteers not just in Oxfordshire but across the country. She was driven to get involved after losing a friend to suicide. The collective strives to create a safe space for people to open up and talk about their mental health and how they are feeling.

 She said: “Part of what the Lions Barber Collective is doing is signposting people to other resources that are already available. So, it's building awareness of the collective within other charities, and showing people that there are a number of charities that offer support. Because of what I've done, I've learned what's out there, and I've started to build up relationships with other local charities.”

She’s already found that the training and education received through the collective has helped to support clients who may divulge that that they are struggling with their mental health.

“When I worked in a salon prior to the training, I lost two customers to suicide. I used to then think, did I miss anything? People do divulge a lot of information to you, and sometimes you're not always prepared for it. After a year of education, you're a qualified barber or hairdresser, aged 17 and you're in the industry, and you've got people telling you certain things that you might not have ever been told before.

“I definitely feel like, from doing the training and from other people doing the training, it teaches you how to safeguard yourself with the information that you're learning. It’s good to be prepared with  the right questions to ask and knowing that you have asked the right questions does help. So does having the right information to give people and knowing that you have listened.”

The collective has also been able to help her to recognise other signs that somebody may be struggling with their mental health. Leanne commented: “Sometimes I’ll have somebody come in and say, I want a radical change…all my hair cut off, and you're like, do you? Do you really want a radical change? Are you just having a moment and you're going to hate me tomorrow if I cut all your hair off?

 “Some people do and that's fine. But you need to be able to then ask the right questions, and not just cut their hair.”

 The next training session for barbers and hair professionals in Oxfordshire will be on Monday, 23 May between 10am and 4pm at the Hair Forum, 2 The Neighbourhood Centre, Madley Park, Witney, Oxfordshire, OX28 1UD, for more information contact Leanne@lionsbarbercollective.com

 Councillor Mark Lygo, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health, said: “Loneliness can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. It is that feeling we all experience when there is a disparity between the social connections we have and those we want.

 “It is something that we’ve all probably felt at some point in our lives, but for people that struggle with it long-term, it can have a lasting impact on both their physical and mental wellbeing.

 “During the pandemic, the isolation many people found themselves in really highlighted the importance of our friends, family, loved ones and just general interactions with other people to our wellbeing.

 “I’m pleased that this Mental Health Awareness Week is giving loneliness the attention it needs. It’s important that we take the time to reflect and talk about how we may all be feeling – if we are feeling lonely – and what we can do to reduce loneliness.”

 There are lots of simple actions to help somebody to feel less lonely, including:

  • Checking in with a family member, friend or neighbour by sending a text or giving them a call to see how they are doing.
  • Reaching out to someone to suggest catching up over a tea or coffee.
  • Inviting someone to join you in getting some fresh air and going for a walk.

 More information

  • For more information on where to get help, information and support for suicide, self-harm, mental health and wellbeing visit Oxfordshire County Council’s website
  • Every Mind Matters provides advice and practical tips to help people to look after their mental health and wellbeing. Read more about it on the Every Mind Matters website
  • Call NHS 111 for mental health advice for adults and children from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire 24/7 mental health helpline.
  • Mental Wealth Academy provides support for 16 - 25 year olds across Oxfordshire using a self-referral. Find out more on the Mental Wealth Academy website
  • The Lions Barber Collective, raises awareness of mental illness and aims to prevent suicide by creating training that enables barbers to recognise, talk and listen.
  • Age UK Oxfordshire provides services for older people and their carers. Find out what support is available on the Age UK Oxfordshire website
  •  Anyone in Oxfordshire can call, text, or email and get free mental health support from Oxfordshire Mind. Text: 07451 277973 Call: 01865 247788 Email: info@oxfordshiremind.org.uk