Tuesday 14 June 2011

Time for a Haircut

I like Hafal's Dave Smith's personal story about stigma which he tells us as the new Time to Change initiative is launched this week by Hafal and our partners Gofal and Mind Cymru (see the story and further details of the campaign here).

Dave, who is on the Time to Change Wales project board, says: "The story I always tell about stigma relates to one occasion when I got my hair cut. The hairdresser said: "Day off work?" I said: "Yes, I have every Monday off." She asked me what I did for a living: I told her I worked at a mental health project helping people to recover from serious mental illness. She said that was a good line of work to be in and asked: "What got you into that?" I told her that I had a mental illness myself and suddenly the speed of the scissors literally doubled! She couldn't get me out of the shop fast enough!"

The three mental health charities have joined forces to launch the new national programme which aims to challenge the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. The campaign is funded by the Big Lottery, Comic Relief and the Welsh Government.

Dave explains further: "During the campaign there will be a strong emphasis on combating discrimination by giving the public the opportunity to hear the stories of people with lived experience of serious mental illness. The campaign will not be about criticising people for their lack of knowledge on mental health matters; it will be all about giving them good information and providing opportunities for understanding. There will be no finger-wagging."

Hair-dressing venues - male, female, or mixed - make an interesting reference point for measuring levels of discrimination. Throughout my youth the gents' barber shop in Ammanford provided me with valuable insights into prevailing attitudes as they changed in the 1970s. I well remember the first female barber being taken on and the large sign telling customers that they could wait for a male cutter if they preferred. I recall that the very young and very old were happy with the revolutionary concept of a woman cutting their hair but the middle-aged (people my age now I suppose) often took up the option to refuse (and it's a sure bet that sales of prophylactics dropped like a stone). I was fine with it though I recall some embarrassment as a teenager having my hair cut by a lady barber in late and evidently uncomfortable pregnancy - frankly an intimate experience and it was all she could do to reach across to my head with the electric clippers.