The statistics don’t lie. According to the Mental Health Foundation UK, in Great Britain alone one in fifteen people have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. Depression is truly the lifestyle disease of the 21st century. Due to the scale of the problem, we are becoming more conscious of its effects- and as we raise awareness, the harmful taboo surrounding the topic seems to slowly disappear. Unfortunately, although the change is present, it’s neither fast nor effective enough.
This is why it is so important to openly discuss mental health – it’s just as important (if not more) as our physical well being. Let’s take a look at the state of mental health among workers in the hair & beauty industry, learn to recognize symptoms of a developing problem and establish what you can do to help yourself and others during the difficult time.
Why are you at risk?
Let’s begin with establishing one thing: a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, occupation or financial standing. Depression is an extremely complex disease, and we are still not sure what causes it. Although it seems it may be genetic, environmental factors such as abuse, alienation, grief or other personal problems most definitely affect it. The same can be said about anxiety disorder – it seems like there’s usually a genetic foundation for developing it.
With all of that being said, certain professions create environments where mental health problems are more likely to occur for one reason or another. Working in the beauty industry, you are exposed to:
- Everyday stress caused by working with people (high level of unpredictability)
- Facing negative feedback from clients (deserved or not)
- High work intensity (no time to wind down and refresh)
- Emotional reactions from clients
- Excessive pursuit of perfection, dissatisfaction with the effects of your work
- Work in an industry focused on external appearance (self-consciousness, severe complexes)
- The nature of the work itself – neverending need to guess and satisfy the needs of other people
- Mental strain caused by the fact that customers tend to confide in you with their (sometimes really serious) problems
- Lack of mental health support in the workplace
- If you are a salon owner: long-lasting and intense stress caused by the overwhelming responsibilities of running a business
As you can see, there are many factors that affect your mental health. And even though it’s women who have stronger tendencies to depression or anxiety disorder – according to the Mental Health Foundation UK, “in England, women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders”, whereas 75% of suicides in the United Kingdom are committed by men.
Why is that? It would be too simplistic to say that women are more willing to share their problems with others and to look for support, however, no one can deny that men are conditioned from a young age to not be overly emotional because it is perceived as “being weak”. Men seek help for mental health less often and therefore, are less likely to be diagnosed and provided with proper help. As it is so difficult to persuade men to look for professional help, there are initiatives like Barber Talk, where barbers are prepared to recognise symptoms of depression in their clients, provide supportive talk and advice, as well as direct them to institutions that will be able to help them. So, the beauty industry can be both a curse and a blessing when it comes to mental health problems – on one side, its peculiar environment can put you at risk, but on the other, direct human contact allows many people to open up and discuss subjects they wouldn’t usually talk to friends or family about.
Bad mood, anxiety disorder and depression – understanding the difference
It’s important to understand the difference between “feeling down” and the clinical disease that is depression, or anxiety disorder. People tend to say they feel “depressed” whenever they feel down, however, it’s a horrific misuse of the term. There is a major difference between handling a period of a bad mood and clinical depression.
Unfortunately, most of the early symptoms (sadness, tiredness, discouragement, irritability) are quite nonspecific and fit the description of a “normal” bad mood. However, what differentiates depression from it are three factors: time, intensity and adequacy of reaction.
- Time – the symptom duration is continuous for an extended period of time (two weeks and more)
- Intensity – the symptoms are overwhelming and affect the normal functioning
- Adequacy of reaction – the emotional reactions are inadequate to the received stimulus (too intense or too weak)
Symptoms of developing depression include:
- Unexplained feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Appetite or sleep routine changes
- Anger or irritability
- Problems with concentration
- Loss of energy
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Self-loathing, strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Reckless behaviour, such as alcohol abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
When it comes to anxiety disorder, the term is also being used quite freely nowadays. Once again, it’s best to observe time, intensity and adequacy of the reaction. It’s perfectly normal to be anxious before an exam or when you are handling a difficult client. Anxiety is a natural reaction to harmful or worrying triggers. However, when feelings are getting out of proportion to the original stressor and/or don’t go away after the stressful situation, you may be developing a disorder.
Symptoms of developing generalised anxiety disorder include:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Sense of impending danger, panic or even doom
- Increased heart rate
- Hyperventilation (rapid breath)
- Sweating, trembling
- Feeling weak and constantly tired
- Problems with concentration
- Problems with thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
- Panic attacks
What can you do for yourself?
Depending on the intensity of the state you are in, you can take different routes – although the first step will always be admitting that there is a problem to face. Now you simply have to reach out to someone – begin with a relative or a friend, someone you can trust. If you don’t have such a person or you would prefer to begin with someone you don’t know personally, call the helpline.
Regardless of the support you receive, you should definitely consider seeing a psychiatrist. Many people try to cope with the illness on their own, as the sound of the word “psychiatrist” itself makes them feel like they are admitting their “weakness” or that they are “crazy”. This is a horrible misconception! A psychiatrist will be able to properly examine your condition and recommend further proceedings. In most cases, you will start psychotherapy. Depending on the nature and/or intensity of the condition, you can also be prescribed medicines – and again, there is no need to panic! You take pills when your heart, liver or kidneys are not functioning properly, why would you be ashamed when your brain needs chemical help as well?
Now, when it comes to all depression-related states, you are very likely to hear a lot of advice on how you should “go outside and be more social”, “start running” and “drink more water”. Is this bad advice? By itself – no, a healthy lifestyle can help you maintain a better frame of mind… but telling that to a person with severe depression is like telling a person with cancer to walk it off. Caring about your physical health and overall wellness will be an important step at a later stage of the recovery process, but when the illness is at its peak, advice like that is insulting.
What can you do for others?
Being able to recognize early signs in yourself is absolutely crucial, however, by being mindful, you can also save someone else’s life. Pay attention to other peoples’ behaviour – your friends and family, obviously, but also your regular clients. People working in the hair & beauty industry can usually tell if a client is struggling with a mental problem. If you notice a sudden or gradual change in their behaviour (apathy, fatigue, nervousness, emotional outbursts) and/or appearance (weight change, paleness, unhealthy skin colour), keep a careful eye on them. It’s best to note the symptoms (you can do it in client records if you are using Booksy) and observe if that was a one-time situation or a persistent condition. If it is so, approach the case with delicacy. Make an effort to talk to the client in private (it’s very important!) and begin with something like “I have noticed some differences in you recently and wondered how you are doing”. If the client opens up, make sure to ask if they are getting proper help and assure them about your support, asking if there is any way you can help. If they prefer to not talk about it, tell them: “I respect your privacy, however, please seek proper support and feel free to tell me if there will be anything I can help you with”.
Depression and anxiety are horrible disorders and no one should be left alone when dealing with such. Take care of yourself and don’t ignore worrisome symptoms – your health is the highest priority, so don’t let harmful misconceptions prevent you from seeking help. After all, you are a professional who provides beauty to the world – and there is nothing more beautiful than a peaceful mind.