LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – A barber shop is not only a place African American men go to get cleaned up, it can also be a place where they meet to talk about what’s going on in their lives.
According to the Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. For African American males, that number can be even higher.
Lorenzo Lewis, Executive Director of the Confess Project, wants to help bring that number down and train barbers to talk with them to identify any potential mental health problems.
“The barber shop was one of the most expressive arenas for men to go in and talk about social issues, sports, to things going on in our own families,” Lewis said. “I thought what a greater way to create an initiative that can help target emotional and mental health in our own community [than through a barber].”
Lewis said many African American men talk about everything while getting a haircut or a shave. He said there is a stigma around talking about mental health in the African American community.
"We as men, we tend to not be as expressive in talking about ways of being healthy,” Lewis said. "[Barbers] hold so much value with their clients and a lot of the clients trust them for the things and advice they may give them in their future."
Fredie Smith, Confess Project contributor, said the barber shop is similar to church for many.
“That’s where we feel comfortable to let down our guard. It’s where you come and find out about what’s going on in your community,” Smith said. “Historically, the barber shop is a place where African Americans have an opportunity to express themselves.”
Matthew Dillion is a popular barber in Little Rock. He owns seven “Goodfellas” barber shops.
“What goes on in the barber shop, stays in the barber shop. This is our social club, this is our counselor meeting,” Dillion said.
Dillion said he sees hundreds of clients a week, so he has built many friendships with them.
"Being a great barber is being more of a counselor. You pray with them, talk with them give them great advice. Not always for the older men but the younger men as well,” Dillion said.
He also said barbers can help men cope with whatever they may be going through.
"We don't know what the next man may be going through. He may have lost his job but he comes to the barber shop and he may feel better when he leave the shop and has his hair cut,” Dillion said.
While there is still a stigma around mental health for men in the African American community, Lewis hopes Barber shops can be a perfect place for men to get help.
“[Mental health] is one of the things we need to address as a community, especially as males,” Lewis said.
The Confess Project is hosting a training event for barbers Friday, November 17, to discuss mental health coping and prevention methods. The event will take place at the Goodfellas Barbershop at McCain Mall starting at 5 p.m.