LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Trim day at the barbershop can bring a sharp line or fade, but now that time in a chair comes with much more than a dope cut.
Through a program called The Confess Project, licensed barbers are trained to be mental health champions for black men who are less likely to see a therapist.
Many clients say barbershops are a safe place for African American men, and it’s in the barber’s chair that clients get a fresh look designed with mental healing.
“In a lot of places, even maybe at work or sometimes even at home, I might feel uncomfortable to express myself in a certain way,” barbershop client Lee Willingham said. “So when I come to the barbershop, I can relax and pretty much talk about anything.”
Power 92 Jams radio personality Houston Stackhouse speaks openly about mental health. He too finds support through his barber, who was trained by The Confess Project.
“I know personally. I’ve been fighting a lot of depression and anxiety for about 15 years,” Stackhouse said. “I’m able to come in here and relax and just let everything go.”
Organization founder and Little Rock, Arkansas, native Lorenzo Lewis struggled with his own mental health issues for years.
“It started with just my story, my own depression, and it’s a national movement,” Lewis explained.
It is a movement that began in 2016 and now consists of more than 1,000 barbers in 15 states who are trained how to listen, detect problems and guide clients to professional help if needed.
In each city, The Confess Project has a partnership with mental health treatment centers where men are encouraged to go if they are having problems that need serious attention.
“Our barbers are pure ‘intervention specialists,’ I like to call them,” Lewis said. “They’re advocates on the front lines, and they really support someone through conversation that can really lead to true impact, true quality of life change.”
The mental health advocate said it is tough getting Black men to the therapist. According to the Office of Minority Health from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans between 15 to 24 in 2019. A year earlier, the rate of suicide for black men was four times higher than for black women.
Taiwan Dickerson has been a barber since 1998. With the help of The Confess Project and other mental health training, he has more than barber tools to provide help and resources.
He’s also not afraid to ask tough questions and said one of his barbershop clients was admitted to a mental health facility after he convinced him to get help.
“That was an awesome moment because I felt like he was at his breaking point,” Dickerson recalled. “I thought he was about to just give up on life.”
Lewis said the need to show strength can lead some to have a resistance to mental health treatment.
“It’s connected to shame and guilt,” he explained. “Black men have so much stoicism to be strong and powerful, truly I believe when we break through and understand, this is about us getting our power and getting control of our lives.”
That opening up can leave a positive effect on an entire family, just by spending an hour or so getting shaped up and brushed off.
To learn more about the program, visit TheConfessProject.com.