NEWS

Barbershops Are Helping Black Men Talk About Mental Health

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Key Takeaways

  • The Confess Project is bridging the gap between accessible mental health help and stigma in the Black community.
  • The rate of suicide among Black men is four times higher than among Black women.
  • Only a third of Black Americans who struggle with mental illness get the treatment they need.

Almost five million Black Americans say they struggle with mental illness, yet only 30% of those people report getting treatment. A number of barriers make it difficult for many in the Black community to get the help they need.

For Black men, stigma is one of the greatest obstacles to dealing with mental health issues.

“Historically, the stigma among men to communicate their feelings and limited mental health resources within the Black community result in a very high suicide rate among Black men, in addition to the extremely high incarceration rates and high levels of poverty most face,” notes Lorenzo Lewis, Chief Visionary Officer and Thought Leader of The Confess Project.

Lewis’ organization is shining a light on the need for mental health awareness among Black men in a place of refuge for many—the barbershop. 

“We found that barbershops are somewhat of a safe haven for Black men,” Lewis explains. “[Barbershops create] a space where they are more willing to be vulnerable and open up about hardships they might be facing,” he adds.

The Confess Project combines the comfort of barbershops with the insight and wisdom of mental health training to remove barriers to mental health treatment for Black men, one client at a time.

What Is The Confess Project?

The Confess Project notes it is “America’s First Mental Health Barbershop Movement.” Their mission is to give Black males access to mental health help, as well as support and encouragement. Men are equipped with coping strategies to process stress, trauma, and other mental health issues.

The Confess Project removes the shame or embarrassment some men feel when they go see a therapist by bringing the therapy to them in the form of their local barber. Black boys and men come in to get their hair cut, and can talk, cry, and process their pain.

The Confess Project started in 2016 and has grown exponentially in terms of services they provide and their reach around the world. In 2021 alone, 1,000 barbers received training to become mental health advocates.

Lorenzo Lewis

[We] use therapeutic-based frameworks to teach [barbers] how to actively listen to clients, validate their feelings, positively communicate, and reduce the stigma around mental health.

— Lorenzo Lewis

“To train our barbers, we connect our barbers with therapists, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations. [We] use therapeutic-based frameworks to teach them how to actively listen to clients, validate their feelings, positively communicate, and reduce the stigma around mental health. Our end goal is that the barbers become not experts, but advocates for their community,” Lewis explains.

With suicide being a leading cause of death in Black Americans ages 18 to 24, and the suicide rate among Black men being four times the rate among Black women, Lewis knows it’s imperative to make a change. The vision for The Confess Project came from his own experiences.

“I was born in jail to an incarcerated mother and was separated from both my mother and father for a lot of my childhood. I struggled with depression, anxiety, and anger throughout most of my youth and faced incarceration at 17. I was given a second chance and used that to help juvenile offenders get involved with mental health advocacy,” states Lewis.

Because barbershops play such an integral role in the Black community, they uniquely bridge the gap between the stigma of going to therapy and the need for mental health help and advocacy.

An Important Tool in the Black Community

Research shows that more than 60% of Black people believe that struggling with a mental health issue shows weakness. That stigma, along with a lack of health insurance, financial challenges, and bias among providers, are barriers to Black men getting the treatment they need.

The Confess Project gives men the ability to bypass those obstacles.

“There is a lack of education in what mental health is, how important it actually is and how much of an impact it can have on communities. There’s also a huge lack of mental health resources in low income and predominantly Black communities,” Lewis explains.

“We are combating this by educating people about mental health, providing them with the resources available in their communities, and training advocates.”

The organization also seeks to dismantle the thinking that says that showing emotion and processing pain are weaknesses.

Lorenzo Lewis

We need to reframe the way these boys and men view masculinity.

— Lorenzo Lewis

“Being told to 'man up' teaches them that expressing their feelings, emotions, and struggles isn’t okay. They carry this idea that you have to be tough, strong, [and] if you can’t fight then you’re weak. It influences how they communicate and behave on a daily basis. We need to reframe the way these boys and men view masculinity,” Lewis says.

Part of the beauty of the project is that men are doing something so regular and ordinary, yet have the power to take life-changing measures to improve their mental health. 

“Going to the barber is a typical thing that men do. There’s nothing unusual about it. So, what better way to integrate a place where you can just talk, be, and listen?” states Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center.

Mental Health Resources

Other organizations are making inroads to help men of color have access to additional resources. Therapy for Black Men also works to show that asking for help is a sign of strength. They have a network of therapists and coaches available to help.

Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) offers programs, trainings, wellness tools, and a directory of mental health professionals.

Black Mental Matters is a weekly podcast that serves as a voice to Black communities about mental health awareness. 

These resources and others are making strides in the Black community. Like The Confess Project, they just want to make a difference and incite positive change.

“Ultimately, my biggest goal is to remove the barriers in areas of mental health support for Black boys and men,” Lewis concludes.

What This Means For You

The Confess Project does more than provide a listening ear. It gives hope, shows humanity, and highlights the importance of offering mental health tools to the Black community. Regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or age, everyone should have access to ways to improve their mental health.



 

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mental Health America. Black and African American communities and mental health.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Minority Health. Mental and behavioral health - African Americans.

  3. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Black/African American.