I’m behind the barber’s chair 9 hours a day, 5 days a week. That’s about 82 haircuts and so 82 conversations I have with people in a week. I know the importance of being able just to get something off your chest, to let it all out. Sometimes letting it out all out can go to some pretty heavy places.

Day-to-day struggles like grief, illness, finances, work, relationships… you’d probably say these are pretty normal and yeah, you’d be right. One in five people suffer from a mental health issue, so there aren’t too many days in a week were I’m not met, literally face-to-face, with someone suffering from the effects.

Helping my clientele talk about and deal with depression is easy for me as I have been dealing with it since I was 14.

You could say I was a pretty normal kid growing up. Pretty active playing soccer, fencing, boxing and skating. Saturday night sleepovers with late-night pizza, playing Mario Kart till the wee hours of the morning. Building forts and water fights in the summer. From the outside life was pretty good, but it wasn’t always the case.

I hid my bruises and scrapes underneath my headstrong and boisterous personality, but there were many days I was terrified and spent time alone crying. I found it so strange when kids at school said I was spoilt and doted on. If they only knew what I was going through. But I was terrified of the consequences of someone finding out the truth.

As I entered high school, I was either just numb or feeling pure anger and frustration. I had trouble sleeping, just laying there confused and feeling so helpless. I developed some strong friendships, but I was always afraid that my friends would realise I was no good or useless. I was trying so hard to be like someone else that I told tall tales so my mates would find me cool and interesting.

I hated being me and was frustrated at who I was. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t want to step out of my skin and be a new person. I was trapped in bones that felt tight and uncomfortable. It led to such low self-worth and self-esteem.

My attendance dropped at school until one day the school counsellor pulled me out of class. We sat in her office, she asked me why my attendance had gone from perfect to below average in a couple of months. That’s where it came out for me. We talked every week from there on in. I felt I could talk freely without judgement and it was such a relief.

So I know what it’s like to struggle, and I know how important it is to find someone to talk to. And I have the personal experience and the knowledge of great organisations like beyondblue and the Black Dog Institute that can help as well. I can recommend things to my clients that help me, like strict routine, regular exercise and mindfulness. For me sitting still and listening to an album is the key. Putting that record on, playing it loud and letting it wash over me has always been my shield against some of my symptoms.

But as time went on, I started feeling like I was repeating myself, or running out of the right words too say. I knew listening and letting people talk was key but felt like there was more I could do. I felt I had a responsibility to look after my clientele as they look after me.

So last year I sat my first Mental Health First Aid course, giving me the tools and the knowledge to help anyone dealing with mental health issues.

As a barber I’ve realised the importance of community spirit and care. I truly love my job and I love what I do. Nothing makes me happier than giving some a quality haircut and good conversation. If there’s anything I’ve learnt, it’s that.

We’re never truly alone with our struggles no matter how dark, and someone is always willing to listen and lend a hand. So speak up and stay chatty.