• Might & Mane is a mental health support service distributed through Aussie barbers. (Might & Mane)Source: Might & Mane
"A person's mental health affects everyone around them".
Alyssa Braithwaite

26 Oct 2017 - 3:31 PM  UPDATED 26 Oct 2017 - 3:31 PM

Most men get their hair cut a few times a year. Some go as often as every couple of weeks to keep their 'do trimmed and looking terrific. 

Imagine if all men paid as much attention to ensuring that what's going on inside their heads was in just as good shape as what happening on top, and got their mental health checked just as frequently.

That's the thinking behind the not-for-profit start-up Might & Mane, which wants to train barbers in safe conversation, how to recognise the signs of mental illness and encourage men to access services that can help.

According to the most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Mindframe, there is an average of 7.9 deaths by suicide in Australia each day, and the number of males who commit suicide is three times higher than females.

Sydney woman Gabrielle Timmins is committed to changing those statistics after losing her father to suicide two years ago.

"I was so heartbroken after we lost him, because he had never opened up about anything like that. We had no idea," Timmins tells SBS.

"I had asked him the day before, 'Are you okay?' and he'd been like, 'yep I'm fine'. 

"I realised if you ask the question but someone doesn't want to reach out or acknowledge it within themselves there's nothing you can do. It's about normalising help-seeking behaviour. 

She started brainstorming ideas late last year for ways to get men to open up. 

After dismissing concepts like a coffee club or brunch club for men, she came across an article about hairdressers in Chicago who had been trained to recognise victims of domestic abuse and refer them on to services. 

She thought it could work for men's mental health by training barbers, as studies have found that guys are more likely to open up in side-to-side, non-confrontational activities, like driving, golf and in the barber's chair. 

So Might & Mane was born. Timmins and friend Charlie Newton won a business mentorship with Macquarie Bank and have an ING Dreamstarter fundraiser going, which has so far raised more than $16,500 with three weeks to go.

"We do need to get a bit of money to get it started, but we had no idea how much we would be able to raise," Timmins says.

"I thought we were going to struggle to get to $10,000 and then we passed that within a couple of hours, which was incredible. We've been blown away by the response.

"Hopefully we can get [enough] funding so that we can work on it full time, because we think it's a great idea. We've got three mentors at Macquarie Bank and they are helping us build a sustainable business model, so that's been really helpful."

Might & Mane are in discussions with some of the best barbers in Sydney and in their first year of operation they aim to have 20 trained Might & Mane affiliated barbers where Aussie men can get the support, guidance and referral they need.

Timmins says Might & Mane will stand out from other mental health initiatives by their young, fresh, and more casual approach to mental health.

"R U OK? and Beyond Blue are great, but they'er a bit more formal, a bit older. I think this resonates a little more with young guys," she says.

"We're trying to keep it a bit light-hearted because so many campaigns show the reality of anxiety and depression but I think that scares people off a bit. We don't deny the severity of the impact in can have on lives, but we're like, 'look it's a normal thing, look after yourself and look after your mental health. It is manageable.'

"Men are often solution-based, which is why they have higher rates of suicide, because when they're in that negative headspace it's like, 'I feel like this so this is the way out of it'. I think what we're trying to show is that there are plenty of other solutions, and to make that the normal thing."

Timmins says they are keen to take their pop-up out to rural areas, where suicide is a big issue, and their ultimate goal is to have a Might & Mane affiliated barber in every town or suburb around Australia.

And while their initial focus is on men, Timmins says they also want to expand into hairdressers in the future and reach women as well. 

"We're starting with men purely because we're losing more men to suicide and the issue is they're not reaching out for help. We have to start somewhere," she says.

"My dad left behind a family of four women who are now heartbroken. A person's mental health affects everyone around them."

If you or someone you know needs support contact Lifeline 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or talk to a medical professional or someone you trust. 

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