Gabriel Julien knows what it's like to battle mental illness. That's why he decided to launch the non-profit Coups de Pinceaux Coups de Ciseaux last year.
"I was hospitalized in 2011 at Clinic JAP [a treatment center for young adults who have experienced a psychotic episode] and then I saw a lot of people struggling with their aesthetic and they didn't take care of themselves."
Julien says people in a tough spot aren't always able to afford a trip to a barbershop or salon.
"I think it's very important for people to get a haircut because it's the basics to take care of [themselves]. It gives confidence to everyone. They can prepare for a job interview or they can prepare to go back to school."
Coups de Pinceaux Coups de Ciseaux is set up inside Cam and Roro hair salon on St-Laurent Blvd.
Every Monday, they offer free haircuts to people struggling with their mental health, to help boost people's confidence and get them into a routine of taking care of themselves.
The non-profit has partnered with JAP — Young Adults with Psychosis at the CHUM hospital, St. James Drop-in Centre, Iris Association, and Maison l'Échelon.
The gift of self-confidence
JAP social worker Anne-Marie Tear says one of the teens she referred to the salon was given a big boost by his free haircut. At the time, he was low on money but was motivated to get back on track by finding a job and returning to school.
"It kind of started here, with this service, being able to feel presentable," she said.
Tear says once someone feels more confident with their appearance, they feel better about themselves and are more willing to step out of their comfort zone.
"When you don't have the means to be able to offer that for yourself, it can be challenging. A lot of people feel ashamed of not being able to have the funds in order to do this. And I think it gives people a chance to feel confident and then to achieve whatever goals they have."
Julien hopes these makeovers will encourage people struggling with their mental health to create new routines.
"After they look in the mirror, the looks in people's eyes change when they come out," he said. "They didn't realize the importance of taking care of themselves and step by step, they will go on to do more stuff to take care of themselves after that."
Julien says he also wants to fight the stigma of mental illness.
To do so, the salon has partnered with local artists who also help fund the project.
The artists who have their work on display at Cam and Roro hair salon donate some of the proceeds their raise from their artwork to Coups de Pinceaux Coups de Ciseaux.
With that help — and some private donations — the non-profit is able to offer hairdressers a nominal fee for their weekly services.
Hugo Desrochers is the president of the board of directors and is helping organize a food drive at the Cam et Roro salon on Dec. 19.
"Especially with social media, we always have an image to push through. I think that's the wall we want to break," he said.
"The more we talk and the more...people see us, the more they feel comfortable.."
Meanwhile, Julien says he has plans to expand the service, to help even more people feel good in their own skin.