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Ken Oath, brother! Canberra barber brings men’s mental health talk to the chair

Max O'Driscoll29 November 2021
Sam Dowdell in his barber shop

Sam Dowdell (left) ran a similar barber/mental health project in New Zealand two years ago. Photo: Instagram – @andrius.kilgour.

For five years, Sam Dowdell – a trained crisis counsellor – drove around New Zealand in a bus with a mobile barbershop offering crisis counselling to people all over the country as he cut their hair.

That was before he was struck with a crisis of his own.

With his dad terminally ill in Canberra, Sam decided to cross the ditch to help his half-brothers look after him.

But as the ACT was hit by lockdown, the timing couldn’t have been much worse.

“Being a Kiwi here, obviously during the lockdowns here, it was kind of a pretty scary time,” said Sam.

Out of lockdown, he decided he would return to doing what had fulfilled him in New Zealand – the result is the ‘Ken Oath Barbershop’.

His first step was buying what would become his mobile barbershop from the National Zoo & Aquarium.

At the moment, he is without a truck to move the barbershop so has limited mobility, but he hopes that once he can find a truck, he can travel all over Canberra and the South Coast.

“I want to do the same thing, using barbering to get into places, isolated places with men and give them that time to cut their hair and talk about mental health,” said Sam.

“Australia has some very similar issues to New Zealand as far as mental health issues with men are concerned. The difference between Australia and New Zealand, though, is Australia has services ready, so rather than myself having to be the counsellor, I can actually pass people onto services that suit their needs.

“I think that the barbershop lends itself to conversation … I often have guys come in that already know that they have something they want to talk about, and they come in and just get it off their chest,” he said.


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Recently, Sam did work with mental illness support group This is My Brave, where they covered the costs of a haircut from Sam for people who sat and spoke about their mental health as he cut.

The Ken Oath Barbershop is currently based out of 6 Leal Place in Palmerston.

Bookings can be organised through the Ken Oath Barbershop website. To continue following Sam’s journey, head to The Barter Barber on Facebook or @kenoathbarbershop on Instagram.

Original Article published by Max O’Driscoll on Riotact.

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