In late January, the Mental Health Foundation issued a challenge for folk around Aotearoa to grow a mullet and use it to make a statement for mental health.
Over 800 mullet-loving souls took up the challenge and on Monday 20 March, International Day of Happiness, their efforts came to a head as they shaped, dyed, and cut their hair into a mullet and let them loose.
The Mullet Matters campaign is more than a nod to the iconic short-at the sides, long at the back hair style made famous by the likes of Hulk Hogan, Andre Agassi and Miley Cyrus. It’s about using the sometimes controversial, often fashionable, always bold haircut as a conversation starter to get people talking about mental health.
And talk they have.
Oli Tarry is a barber at Red’s Traditional Barbershop in Auckland’s Te Atatu.
The barbershop donated the $40 cost of the haircut for anyone who had a mullet cut during the month of March.
He says the kōrero he’s had with clients as they’ve had their mullet cut has reinforced why this kaupapa is so important.
“As a barber, it's not all about cutting hair, it's about creating a safe space for people to open up and talk. Most guys won't go and see a counsellor once a month but they will go to the barbershop,” says Oli.
“I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a kid, but it's crazy what happens when you share your struggles with people, it means you don’t feel so alone.”
Hayden McGehan is one of Oli’s clients He had been growing his long hair for about 4-5 years, and when he saw The Mullet Matters campaign, he knew it was time to go full mullet, and was so keen he couldn’t wait until 20 March.
“It’s been such a drastic change so everyone I know has noticed it and it’s been a great segue into talking about mental health,” says Hayden who was in his late teens when he lost his dad to suicide.
“As I’ve grown older and put in the work on my own mental health, I’ve become more comfortable with my experience. I recognise that who I am now has been shaped by that event, so I talk about mental health a lot. Communication is a game changer and I believe we all need to be doing better to support each other in the communities we live in.”
Cheyenne Marsters agrees. Gisborne based, she knows first-hand how important it is to look after your mental health, especially during difficult times like the recent flooding. She used her fundraising efforts to share her own history of trauma and suicidal ideation.
“For me, opening up has been an amazing way to connect to like-minded people, teaching me that I am not alone,” Cheyenne says. “It has empowered me to take action to accept what I have lived through and turn them into strengths, so I encourage anyone going to challenging times to reach out for support, it could change your life.”
Cheyenne was one of hundreds who let their mullet loose on International Day of Happiness. Another was the Mental Health Foundation’s Chief Executive, Shaun Robinson.
“At the risk of aging myself, I rocked quite a lengthy mullet back in the 80s, but these days I’m a little more follicly challenged, so I’m doing my best, but it’ll be a much tidier mullet than I used to have.”
Still, he says, it’s the kaupapa and the connection that means he’s happy to bring the mullet back.
“I live with bipolar, so I know that for me and others with a diagnosed mental illness to live well, it’s critical to have access to quality information and the funds raised by everyone who grows a mullet will help make that happen.”
The funds raised during The Mullet Matters will help cover the $300,000 annual shortfall of the Mental Health Foundation’s Resource and Information service. The service distributes almost one million free mental health resources around the motu every year – including booklets, pamphlets, posters and website downloads – covering topics such as suicide prevention, workplace wellbeing, depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, suicide loss, and more.
The Mullet Matters campaign aimed to raise $100,000 to help meet that annual shortfall.
At the end of the campaign the incredible mullet-wearing fundraisers had raised over $128,000 helping fund over 422,000 free mental health resources.
Watch to see what happened when the Mental Health Foundation's Shaun Robinson and Fundraising Manger Chris Taylor, popped down to Red's Traditional Barbershop in Auckland's Te Atatu to get their own mullets whipped into shape and to kōrero with the lads about mental health.
If you've ever thought about sporting a mullet, this is the perfect opportunity to make your mullet matter. The campaign will be back in March 2024. Register your interest now.