'I constantly smell death' - former police officer turned to barbering to cope with PTSD

A former police officer who left the force with PTSD has revealed how barbering helped "save" his mental health.

"I constantly have a smell of death around be it from a fire, be it from doing CPR in the back of an ambulance from somebody who's kind of charred," he told ITV News.

Describing how PTSD has affected his family life, he added: "I wake up in the middle of the night shouting, small children at home, often they'll then wake up and with that comes mega sweats...and you have to change sheets and duvets, I sweat so much because of the terrors."

Mr Birch opened the barbershop three and half years ago as part of an initiative with the Lions Barber Collective, a mental health awareness and suicide prevention charity.

He told ITV News the venture was a way of using his own mental health experience as a platform to get other men to open up.

"People say something saved their lives. I genuinely think barbering saved my life," he said.

Mr Birch told ITV News that maintaining a certain body image played a role in his mental health.

"For me, being in the gym once or twice a day was pivotal to my role not only as a male but as a male in the police force," he said.

He added: "If I didn't maintain that [body image] then how weak did I look not only to the people that are calling on me for their assistance."

Body image and mental health are closely linked to each other according to the Mental Health Foundation.

Just over one in eight adults in the Midlands have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image.

In the UK a quarter of men say they have felt depressed because of concerns about their body image.

Just over one in eight (14 per cent) adults in the Midlands have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

At the heart of Mr Birch's barber shop is helping men to look and feel better about themselves.

Andy Robb, one of the store's customers, first opened up about his son taking his own life after he walked in for a hair appointment.

Andy Robb first opened up about his son taking his own life at Mr Birch's store.

"I very much feel as men we put barriers up around us, and people don't really get through that barrier but then you come into a barber and you let somebody go through your follicles you know, so they're already through that point," he told ITV News.

He describes the conversations he has in the store as being just as important as how he looks when he leaves.

"I come in here, I go out feeling better, fresher, smarter, and more positive. There's a positive body image which helps you feel positive about yourself generally," he said.

Jon Andrews, Assistant Professor in Mental Health Nursing at Coventry University, believes "short behavioural steps" can help contribute towards building a helpful body image and improving mental health.

He told ITV News: It's not as easy as saying to someone 'oh you look great'.

"If someone feels they don't, they're not going to believe you, But actually being encouraged to take these short behavioural steps, maybe getting your hair done, maybe looking after yourself a little bit more from a physical and objective physical perspective, maybe that's something that can be really helpful."

  • For more information and help about mental health visit: