I can recall several Friday afternoons when I would sit in my local barbershop listening to countless stories that other customers would share, the laughter, the intense sports debates, and experience – a camaraderie that rivals most social experiences. Having my hair cut was never just a haircut, it was a social experience that was far from predictable. I can recall going to the barbers just to watch a football match, and not even get my hair cut. We have our own experiences with salons, beauty parlours and barbershops. Many love a good groom or pampering, but what is it about salons and barbershops that give us such a sense of calm, freedom and feel-good factor? Could it be that there is a therapeutic element which improves our overall wellness and sense of self? I had these questions myself, and after examining a prolific new study in The University College London paper, entitled “Is having a haircut good for your mental health?“, my initial questions were answered.

Tamika Roper (MSc) and Dr. John Barry conducted this study which included 202 participants. Of these, 58 were male and 144 were female. The survey included questions such as: “I often talk to my barber/hairdresser about personal matters”, “I often go to the barber/hairdresser just because I have a problem and I want to speak to my barber/hairdresser about it” and “I walk in to the barbershop/hairdresser without booking an appointment”. All questions were answered on a scale from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. They found that Black males socialised and talked significantly more than any other group (p <.01), and Black males were significantly more likely to be at the hairstylist for reasons other than haircuts than their white counterparts. Females on the other hand, socialised and talked as much as each other (regardless of their race). 

The results could indicate that different elements of visiting the hairdressers or barbers can contribute to the improvement of wellbeing, such as; watching TV, reading magazines, talking etc. Perhaps there is a trust factor involved when we build relationships with our stylist or barber. I can recall a time where customers had their favourite barbers and would not allow anyone else to cut their hair. Perhaps this is not just about the barber’s ability to cut hair, but also a connection and comfortability to converse and share personal matters. 

On tops of that, there is a fresh feeling associated with a haircut or a new hairdo. We leave feeling beautiful and clean which can also contribute to our perceptions of ourself. The open forum to discuss personal matters with our hairdresser or barber, and perhaps get unbiased opinions, can help bring clarity and a sense of perspective and direction. The questions that arise however are: Are hairdressers and barbers qualified to advise customers on person matters? Do they have a good level of mental health knowledge to identify mental health problems? or Do they even need to? 

The answers to these questions may matter more to some than others, but one thing for sure is, a Saturday afternoon at the salon can be a long day (for some), and there is plenty of opportunity to observe and partake in this social experience. Who knows, you may just improve your general wellbeing, or at the very least, never view your visit to the hairdressers or barbers the same way again.

For now, we will have to see how this research develops and what impact its further findings can have on our lives. Until next time:

This is not how your story ends;

Written By Steve Whyte