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Mental heath: Let’s give hair stylists ALL the tools we need to do our jobs!

May 31, 2021

We style their hair and know their beauty secrets, but increasingly, we share their souls.

Australians are used to bending our hair stylists’ ears, but dumping their emotional baggage on us is taking a toll on what is already an extremely hard-working, physically draining trade with long hours and low pay.

Hair Stylists Australia is the union for hair stylists. We want to change the lives of hairdressers for the better by securing mental health training as an industry standard.

Nicole Serafin is an HSA Ambassador who runs her own salon in northern NSW. She began cutting hair at just 12, and has more than 30 years’ experience in the trade.

Nicole says she values her close time with clients, but like most hairdressers finds it extremely draining.

“We know the most intimate details about people,” she says.

“Customers come in, they’ve had a rough week, rough day, there’s a lot going on in their home life, they are there with you two, three, maybe four hours having their hair done, and they tell you everything, often things no one else knows.

“We get told about everything from affairs, to drug and alcohol abuse, to physical and mental abuse from partners, family and friends, and you can’t do anything about it.”

Nicole says she and work friends hear some “pretty horrific” things, even stories of child abuse. “It’s like, do I go to the police, do I do something?”

She says young workers in particular are not trained or used to dealing with people on such intense, one-on-one personal situations.

A non-drinker, Nicole nonetheless believes the stress of the situation is so bad it is leading to a rise in alcohol and drug abuse in the trade.

“As hairdressers we are not qualified to handle what we take on,” she says. “Trained psychiatrists have a buddy system, a person who you can go to talk about your day, someone you can things bounce off. But we don’t have that.”

Long hours and “pretty full-on customers” are leading to burn out.

“We are untrained, unqualified counsellors,” she says. “It’s our world six days a week, and after a couple of years your body just can’t take it. You burn out, you physically burn out.

“Many people leave hairdressing not because they hate it, they love it, but they just can’t cope with the emotional aspect anymore.”

Nicole says part of the solution is simple: job training, and a system of support.

“Young ones need a small course treated as part of their training. Perming, men’s cutting, ladies’ cutting, colouring, how about counselling?

“For senior workers maybe offer part-time, even online, courses on basic counselling, maybe give them a buddy they can pair up with and if something happens, call.”

Shane Roulstone, AWU National Organising and Campaigns Director, echoes the call for more training.

“HSA is currently working collaboratively with other industry stakeholders, like the Australian Hairdressing Council, to undertake a thorough review the apprenticeship training package for hairdressers,” Shane says.

“We want to make sure apprentice hairstylists are provided with the relevant skills and training they need to succeed in the industry.

“The mental health of our members is always a priority for HSA and we are working with industry to ensure it is included in any changes to the training package.”

The HSA is also supporting a new research initiative by the University of Melbourne, the Beyond Skin-Deep Project.

Led by Dr Hannah McCann and funded by the Australian Research Council, Beyond Skin-Deep Project is examining the relationship between hair and beauty workers and their clients, and how hair stylists are in a unique position to address social issues such as family violence, mental health and social isolation.

The project hopes to answer three questions:

  • What role do salon workers play in the emotional lives of their clients?
  • How can salon workers best be trained and supported in the social and emotional work of their profession?
  • What best practice solutions can be implemented to connect community services with salon professionals?

Hannah and her team are on the lookout for hair and beauty workers to conduct an online interview about your experiences at work, and we encourage everyone who is interested to register.

HSA will be working with the appropriate industry authorities to push for understanding mental health training to be included in hair and beauty apprenticeships and training.

If you want to support our campaign, please sign the petition and get involved! The more support we get from the industry, the bigger chance we have of making this happen.

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