The Stigma of Mental Health

Last week I went to the barber shop to get my hair cut. I actually look forward to it. For a change I get to talk about how I’m doing, and my barber and I catch up on our latest personal updates since my last visit. When I got to the shop, I just then remembered that my barber was away in Israel for the week, and therefore I had to be seen by another barber there. I hesitantly climbed up into the seat praying to God that this guy wouldn’t jack up my hair, and I’d have to jump into my next therapy appointment with a bad do. For me it’s so hard to trust people with cutting my hair, but I decided to give it a shot.

As the new barber started the haircut, he initiated small talk. He asked my name and profession. I told him I am a psychotherapist specializing in helping people with anxiety problems. Little did I know that this would open up a whole dialogue about anxiety. The barber expressed how he’s dealt with anxiety for much of his later life, and so did his wife. He explained how she had to see a therapist not too far back to get treatment for her plane phobias, and that the experience was life changing for her.

In between eyeing the barber to make sure the haircut wasn’t a complete disaster, he began inquiring more about anxiety, where it comes from, and what to do about it. As I explained the anxiety thought process in great detail, and how it effects our behaviors and the anxiety cycle, it was as if the room lit up. The other guys next to me getting their hair cut all nodded in agreement to what I was saying, and some chimed in with their own issues with anxiety. It was interesting to see how a seemingly regular day at the barber shop transformed into an extensive dialogue about anxiety that almost everyone in the room could relate to.

Needless to say anxiety is something that most people still don’t talk about. Therefore it can feel like you’re all alone in this and everyone else is fine. But the overwhelming majority of people I come in contact with (not just at barber shops) all report having gone through problematic anxiety at one point in their life, or are currently struggling with it. Who would’ve known that 90% of the people in that barber shop suffered with problematic anxiety if no one were to start the conversation?

This whole experience may seem trivial, but to me it was an extra eye-opener. The stigma of mental health is real, and still alive to this day. We’re so obsessed with being perceived as “normal,” and fitting in. Imagine how many more conversations we could have with other people if we decided to be more honest about our feelings, and let people see the other side of us? Wouldn’t it also be great the next time you’re feeling anxious to be able to share your experiences, and take comfort in others who can relate to you? And in case you’re wondering, I ended up with a great haircut after all!