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24 Oct 2017

Breaking Down the Mental Health Stigma

Both babylon and The Lions Barber Collective are breaking down the barriers by making therapy more accessible and user-friendly.

In this day and age most of us are aware that we need to look after our physical health, and we know that to do this we need to eat the right food and exercise to keep us fit and build muscle to keep us strong. Ultimately, being better aware makes us take better care of our health with commitment and dedication to fitness and healthy eating. However, this awareness has not always been the case. Just look at the numbers of people running the London marathon. The inaugural run in 1981 had just 7,747 runners and in 2017 it jumped to a record-breaking 40,000 people.

Now the same awareness needs to be raised for our mental wellbeing. Statistics estimate that 1 in 4 will suffer directly from mental health problems this year, but what about their families and others that are affected indirectly by their suffering? Even more so, what about those who do not visit their GP or other medical professionals to get their problems recorded? I’ve yet to meet someone who has not been affected by mental health issues at some point. We have all had relationship problems, or a time when we hated our work, felt trapped, behind on our work or had high stress levels amongst many, many other things. We have all had emotional or physical problems that have affected our mental health negatively. Some of us might have also have suicidal thoughts, and if we can talk about these thoughts and struggles we can reduce the stigma surrounding them and get to an environment of support and solutions that make a difference.

Two years ago, on September 10th, 2015, The Lions Barber Collective had its first article in The Telegraph and was announced to the world. The Lions Barber Collective is a collection of barbers founded by myself, that believe if we listen to those in our chairs we can make a huge difference to our communities and eventually the population’s mental wellbeing. It all comes down to empathy and the ability to listen in a non-judgmental, non-clinical environment, while having the knowledge and confidence to be able to signpost to relative organisations or professionals and bridge the gap between communities and the resources available. We are not trying to make hair professionals into counsellors or therapists, we are trying to simply push a new way of accessing care and giving people options that feel comfortable to them.

A year before I founded The Lions Barber Collective I lost an old friend, a young man in his twenties, to suicide. I saw him days before, I spoke to him, I didn’t know there was anything wrong. Should I have? Could I have made a difference? Maybe if he felt like he could have confided in me he may have said something? Maybe not? Either way, we lost somebody because of their struggles and they didn't have an outlet. One of the biggest things I have done is let people know publicly that it is Ok to talk to me and I will listen without judgement. However, I cannot be there all the time for everyone so we need more resources that are available for those in need in the ways people want to access them.

Suicide is the biggest killer in young people and nearly 80% of them are men. A lot of them are men who have never visited a professional or registered their mental health issues.

We all know that men don't visit their doctors, and I have done surveys with The Lions Barber Collective and our partners to find out that men now in fact visit their barbers more than both their GP and even their local pubs. I myself cannot remember the last time I visited my GP and when my wife most recently visited the GP she was told that although she had three concerns there was only enough time to discuss one. This is what makes babylon so great. Anyone can at least access their free chat service, powered by AI, to check symptoms or get instant advice on what to do if you are feeling unwell, i.e. set up a virtual GP consult, go to the A&E, head to the pharmacy, etc.


barber cutting hair

Beyond that, there are many other features which take all aspects of health into account. The ability to measure and monitor yourself is priceless - with features such as the mind monitor you can track your sleep and stress levels by inputting data and keeping an eye on your levels in an easy dashboard. Keeping track of this may seem insignificant, but it can make all the difference if you are giving yourself daily time to reflect on how you are feeling and what you're thinking. babylon also offers 24/7 access to GMC-registered GPs, with appointments usually within 2 hours and at an extremely low cost compared to other private health care services. The fact that you can use the device (your smartphone) you already have, to now reach a specialist or therapist from your own home is ground breaking especially for those who are suffering from isolation. The GPs are available 24/7 for just £5 a month unlimited, and if you wish to speak to a therapist this can be done for £39 per session in working hours, specialists at £49. When you compare the amount of time many people have to wait to see a therapist or GP through the usual channels, babylon works around your schedule and what is most convenient for you. Your calls are also recorded so you can go back to replay things if you need to remember what was said or if your thoughts and feelings change after your appointment, you can quickly and easily book another appointment to ask follow-up questions.

Ultimately, it’s about making health and mental care more accessible and affordable. Sometimes, with all of the stats out there on mental health and suicide, it can create separation between those who are “normal” and those who suffer. And let’s be honest, there are a lot of folks who suffer alone on a daily basis. I spoke to Martin J Seager, a friend and published psychologist recently and we discussed his ideas about moving from mental health conditions to the human condition and how access to mental healthcare, just someone to listen, is such a big part. These conditions are primarily: (a) to be loved and to love (b) to be heard and attended to (c) to belong (d) to achieve, make a difference (e) to have purpose, meaning and belief. If we all understood these needs, we could make huge strides towards mental wellbeing, and with a resource like babylon we can ensure ongoing support to ourselves and those around us with ease and no long waiting times. It really could make all the difference.

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