From relationship problems to redundancies, hairdressers often hear it all, and one union is calling for more training to help deal with tough conversations.
- One union says hairdressers regularly have stressful conversations
- It says hairdressers could undergo mental health first aid training
- A leading mental health doctor supports further training within the industry
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) SA secretary Josh Peak said hairdressers “effectively perform a quasi-psychology to many of their clients”.
He said they could fall into quite “significant and stressful conversations” with their clients and many were ill-equipped.
“Hairdressers obviously take that on and don’t have any training in providing psych assistance or advice,” Mr Peak said.
He said the union was hoping to encourage training throughout apprenticeships to help better handle confronting conversations and identify mental health risks among clients.
Adelaide hairdresser Jacqui Gladwell said it was a common occurrence to have a difficult conversation with a client.
“It’s crazy what people tell [their] hairdresser — even if you don’t have that bond with them, people are very open with you,” she said.
Ms Gladwell said the proposed training would be helpful, especially because the industry was filled with so many young people.
“I started at a very young age, so to have people tell you very personal stuff, it kind of does hit you when you’re still a teenager,” she said.
Close relationship with hairdressers
Hairdressing company Clip Joint, which operates three salons and a training academy, is becoming increasingly aware of the unique role hairdressers could play.
Clip Joint director Alfredo Cappella said the relaxing environment of a hair salon often made clients feel comfortable enough to open up.
“Most people when they develop a relationship with a hairdresser … they talk openly about everything,” Mr Cappella said.
“There’s nothing they won’t tell you.”
However, he said while hairdressers could often spot mental health issues, including depression, there had to be a clear line and it was important staff did not offer advice.
“We train people never to cross the line,” Mr Cappella said.
“We wouldn’t want to be a psychologist to the client.”
Claire Kelly, the research and curriculum director at Mental Health First Aid Australia, a not-for-profit organisation based in Melbourne which trains people to have effective conversations about mental health, said she supported the idea of increasing mental health literacy among hairdressers.
Dr Kelly said hairdressers were an excellent target for mental health “first aid” training because of the relationships they built with clients, sometimes over many years.
“They’re in a good position to notice changes because of the frequency that they tend to see people; it’s not every week, it’s every few weeks, so you’re more likely to notice changes that other people might miss,” she said.
“A hairdresser is not a psychologist or a mental health professional, so there’s no stigma about talking to them when things are a little bit rough.”
She said if somebody was concerned about crossing a line, it was probably that they had not thought about what that conversation might look like.
“It might be as simple as saying ‘Hey, you seem a little bit down, is there something that’s been going on?'” she said.
She said lots of hairdressers were already having those conversations, but with training they could be more effective.
“You don’t go into any kind of diagnosis, you certainly don’t offer any kind of therapy, it’s about having a supportive conversation that might help someone to make the decision to seek the help that they need,” she said.
“It’s no different a conversation, really, than someone talking about the difficulties that they might be having at work or talking about planning a holiday.”
She said without training, hairdressers ran the risk of taking their client’s problems on, or thinking they had to provide a solution.
“One of the things we always teach is that it’s much more important to be genuinely caring than to say all the exact right things,” Dr Kelly said.
Who should undergo mental health training?
Dr Kelly said no hairdresser should be forced to undergo training if they didn’t want to.
Mental Health First Aid Australia action plan
- Approach, assess and assist with any crisis
- Listen and communicate non-judgmentally
- Give support and information
- Encourage appropriate professional help
- Encourage other supports
“I think that it’s a mistake to have it become an additional responsibility for someone who’s not comfortable with it,” Dr Kelly said.
However, she said it was something she would like to see more professions get involved with, so conversations around mental health could be more effective.
“Particularly in country towns and regional areas, think about your bartenders, your taxi drivers, your hairdressers, people who spend a little bit more time [with people] and there’s nothing stigmatising about talking to them,” she said.
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