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No Bad Days – Men, Masculinity and Mental Health

6th July 2024


Declan Henry

Jake Cox – Mental Health Advocate

Jake (30) originally hails from Southeast London, but this working-class lad now considers St Mary’s Island in Chatham his new home. He moved there three years ago with his wife as he always wanted to live by the water. He was fed up with the London rat race and concrete jungles of Welling and Thamesmead but since moving to Medway has found contentment.  Becoming a dad for the first time has added to his happiness with the birth of his daughter last year. 

Jake dreamt of being a professional barber from an early age and fulfilled this dream when he qualified ten years ago. But his ambition did not end there because he always had an entrepreneurial edge to his character. This sometimes played out when he watched Dragon’s Den and was convinced he could do better than some of the contestants. His goal was to own his own business and since moving to St Mary’s Island, he has done exactly that. Welcome to No Bad Days barbers’ shop where you are assured of getting the best haircut in Medway. There is much more to No Bad Days than meets the eye, which I will come on to shortly. Having built up a steady client list in London, many still travel to Jake because they trust him as a safe pair of hands.

Jake told me during my visit to his shop that he designed it to reflect himself, his personality, and his interests. He wanted the interior to resemble every young man’s bedroom but for it not to appear childish. Therefore, football posters, music memorabilia (including a guitar), plants, inspirational quotes, and pictures adorn its walls, giving it a homely yet therapeutic and nurturing atmosphere. Music plays a big part in Jake’s life, and this is evident in the barber’s state-of-the-art music system that caters for all client tastes, be it the deep and meaningful lyrics of Billie Eilish or those who prefer Taylor Swift or Coldplay or any other genre of music.

This is not all Jake provides because the main emphasis behind the No Bad Days logo is addressing men’s mental health. Jake has battled his own issues since an early age, suffering from anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. He remembers from the age of twelve enduring bouts of sadness and being a child who was oversensitive and prone to overthinking situations at school and among friends. Rather than seek professional advice, Jake’s parents adopted the British stiff upper lip stance and brushed emotions under the carpet. However, he doesn’t blame them for this. They did what they thought was right at the time. He appreciates they were a product of their environment, and attitudes towards mental health in working-class circles were quite different twenty years ago to what they are today. Parents, back then, didn’t routinely take their children to the GP to request referrals to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

A few years ago, Jake decided to seek help for depression and has since undertaken Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and counselling with the charity MIND. He still sees a counsellor and is undertaking an assessment for adult ADHD in the hope that it will explain why he has always been hyper-focused, driven and determined. Jake also takes antidepressants, which he feels help his panic attacks. He doesn’t plan to be on them for life, but for now, they are part of his recovery programme, which also consists of him maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, exercise, gym, boxing, good sleep hygiene and the avoidance of alcohol.

Jake believes that people need to create their own lifestyle brand. Being a Gemini, he is naturally drawn towards peacefulness, calmness, and serenity. So even after a particularly long day at work and when it’s too late to go to the gym, he will relax and unwind by taking the dog for a walk by the river. He is a big believer in a person balancing yin and yang in their lives. Yin represents energies of darkness, femininity, passivity, and the earth, while yang is all about light, masculinity, activity, and the heavens. Jake pointed out that the balance of yin and yang influences health and order within an individual.

No Bad Days is a form of affirmation inviting people not to write off an entire day just because part of it comprised of a few bad moments. The idea first came to Jake when he was visiting Devon. He passed a shop selling surfing equipment with a sign outside that read, ‘No Bad Surf Days Here.’ After exploring the idea, he discovered the rationale behind the surf sign, which meant that even before someone leaves to go surfing, they can do a few small but easy things to help make sure their surf day is a great one. This got Jake thinking and he wondered if this applied equally to mental health and remaining optimistic despite setbacks – hence, the seed was sown. After returning from Devon, he talked about the concept to his wife and close circle of friends. Being an ardent believer of how anything can be talked into existence if you set your mind to it, that’s exactly what happened. Soon after moving to St Mary’s Island, Jake discovered an empty premises that proved ideal for what would become his barber shop.

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Jake’s clients tend to be in their twenties and thirties, although the shop caters for all ages. They comprise of army veterans, sportsmen, footballers, boxers, builders and prison officers. Jake is a softly spoken and empathetic man. He easily reads personality types and won’t dive in with a barrage of questions. Firstly, he notices if a client wants to talk before pursuing a conversation. Most clients do talk and take the opportunity to confide in Jake, who states that he can instantly recognise a problem. He can read people and usually tell if they like a certain thing, so he steers them towards a suitable conversation. He appreciates that everyone has their own backstory and is adept at noticing clues and spotting early signs of mental illness. If someone divulges they are going through tough times, he gently asks how their mental health is and what is currently positive in their life.

If the need seems fitting, he asks if they have thought about seeing their GP or considered counselling. From the time I spent with Jake, I could easily see that he has an aura of trust about him, which undoubtedly is the key reason why so many clients feel comfortable enough to open up about such issues as loneliness, grief, depression, relationship and marital problems, divorce and not being allowed to see their children by an ex-partner. One client confided in Jake how sad he was feeling after his wife had a miscarriage. This reduced Jake to tears because he understood the client’s grief and pain, having experienced this when his own wife miscarried. At the end of the haircut, they both gave each other a big hug.

Jake is conscious of remaining neutral when listening to clients and avoids judgemental comments. He inwardly corrects himself if his mind wanders and he appreciates that he has never walked in that person’s shoes. Every person, including himself, he tells me, should become the best version of themselves before they go around and start judging others. Jake passionately loves what he does and puts whatever is going on in his own life aside before he enters the shop. He disconnects himself from the outside world and is there purely for his clients. He sometimes encourages the client to look for possible underlying causes for their problems and plants a seed to encourage them to think about things from an unfamiliar perspective. On the surface, some people may appear to have everything. They can be good-looking, have a great body, a decent job, be financially secure, have a nice partner, nice house, car, and clothes, but to them, whatever they have is never enough. If he encounters clients who might be considering suicide, Jake isn’t afraid to remind them of the destruction suicide leaves behind for loved ones, having experienced the loss of a close relative to suicide himself.

The shop has boundaries, and clients are asked to respect Jake’s rules. He only sees clients by appointment and each one is allocated fifty minutes. He requests that clients are on time because he likes to sit down and discuss their haircuts and suggest different styles. Once the haircut is complete and before the arrival of the next client, Jake ventilates the room and sprays it with a cleanser before sweeping the floor. He has learned to do this naturally over the years, making sure that when clients enter, they are walking into a clean energy space.

While talking with Jake, he was adamant in pointing out that nobody is ever placed under any type of pressure to talk or discuss their problems. This is completely optional even though his business has been in the media several times now and clients have usually heard about it beforehand. Creating a safe environment for everyone means that whether you want to offload your worries or not, you are assured of getting a top-class haircut in a friendly and relaxed environment and no matter what, the client will always end up feeling chilled and rejuvenated after they leave. Some clients have even become friends, but only if a close bond develops or if Jake has known them for a long time. He tries to avoid seeing clients outside work. Sometimes, a client may suggest they go for a beer, but he likes to keep things friendly and professional.

Jake, who is a mental health first aider, now wants to spread the concept behind No Bad Days to other barbers. He is currently organising training for them through MIND to attend a one-day course in the hope that they too can spot signs of mental health issues in clients and offer help. It is a brilliant idea and with Jake at the steering wheel, this will mean that many other men who would never have had an outlet to express their feelings will be given an opening that both improves their mental health and, for some, will save their lives.

Jake’s mother once told him that he never ceases to surprise her and if she were asked to put a team together, he would be the first person she would pick. His mother is correct because Jake is a diligent worker who makes things happen. But it’s the genuinely kind side to his character that shines through. Compassion, empathy, and sensitivity aren’t qualities that can be taught, and Jake freely dispenses these qualities to clients who come to his shop. Men are renowned for never overly expressing their vulnerabilities, and for many, he will have been their guardian angel. However, whether they know or appreciate this, it doesn’t matter because Jake’s genuine kindness comes from the heart and will always remain unconditional.

As a writer, I try to incorporate both sides of humanity into my writing, having learned that life is far from grim and that there is enough kindness, compassion, love and humour to overcome life’s obstacles, regardless of how much misery, abuse, or injustice exists.
Written by Declan Henry


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