Barbershops are central hubs for Black communities: a safe haven where people can embrace their community, discuss societal change, economic problems, share ideas and confide in others.
The unique position of barbers is why The Confess Project, which seeks to encourage dialogue about the mental and emotional health of Black men, trains barbers across the South and Midwest to become mental health advocates.
During the training at Jackson Convention Complex, experts discussed how to approach a client when he expresses issues related to mental health and how to recognize warning signs of mental illness. Experts talked to the barbers about how to respond if a client is suicidal and what resources to provide.
Barber Michael Johnson, who works at Traxler’s School of Hairin Jackson and owns MJ’s Blazzin’ Fades, attended the local training.
“It made me see where I fit into the solution because I come in contact with a lot of people when I’m cutting hair,” said Johnson. “It taught me how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness. It also allowed me to step outside of myself and pay attention to others and see where I can help.”
Barbers and hair stylists often act as de facto therapists, he said. They hear intimate details of their clients’ lives and problems while behind the chair.
“People come here and open up, and some of them can cry out without opening their mouths,” Johnson said. “Some people learn to cope, but they never got over their trauma. I try to voice anything that I can do to help the situation and be careful to not judge.”
BROTHERS Barbershop Initiative is also tackling physical health by installing blood pressure machines in barbershops and teaching barbers how to perform blood pressure screenings and to recognize any blood pressure-related signs and symptoms in clients.