The Confess Project brings mental health training to Lorain County barbers

The Mental Health, Addiction & Recovery Services Board of Lorain County is helping local barbers and stylists become mental health advocates.

Staff at the health, addiction and recovery services agency invited professional barbers and hair stylists to participate in The Confess Project on Sept. 18 at the Elyria YWCA.

The Confess Project is a grassroots initiative designed to reduce suicide rates among Black men.

The project is based on research which proves men, especially Black men, are more inclined to have real conversations with their barbers, and as a result, training these barbers to effectively react to and support their clients was a natural focus.

The movement has gained traction throughout Lorain County despite challenges due to coronavirus pandemic regulations, said Mimi Nelson, chief operations officer for Confess Project of America.

Lorain stylist asking a question during The Confess Project mental health advocacy training on Sept. 18. (Aliah Kimbro -- The Morning Journal)
A Lorain stylist asks a question during The Confess Project mental health advocacy training on Sept. 18. (Aliah Kimbro — The Morning Journal)

“Our founder, Lorenzo Lewis, found the barber shop can be a safe space to host mental health dialogue with Black men,” Nelson said. “So, it’s just really been a really great ride.

“Obviously in 2020 COVID hit, and we were able to really catapult our resources. We received a lot of resources at that time. I think at the cusp of 2020 we probably had about 70 barbers trained, and now we’re at 3,500.”

The Lorain County training is sponsored by MHARS of Lorain County, Elyria YWCA, Community Foundation of Lorain County and the Lorain County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

Barbers and stylists who serve the members of the Black and brown community are encouraged to become advocates, with the mission to reduce disparities in access to behavioral health care and build awareness and reduce stigma about mental health care in Lorain County.

Elyria stylist and project ambassador Sha’Quanna Young acknowledged the role of hair professionals in mental health advocacy.

“I’ve been in this industry for 22 years,” Young said.  “I have grown with so many of my clients and have watched them navigate through the world and life changes, and a lot of times, I’m the person they talk to, and they don’t always talk to their family about (their problems).”

The Confess Project is a continuation of the Social Determinants of Health Summit held in August with local behavioral health prevention leaders.

The aim is to increase local awareness of gaps in service and provide culturally relevant services to address health inequities among underserved and marginalized communities in both urban and rural districts in Lorain County, according to The Confess Project.

The focus is to get buy-in from other stakeholders and coalition leaders to align and work together throughout the county.

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