National organization promotes mental health for young men of color

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63% of black people believe a mental health issue is a sign of personal weakness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But one organization is helping to eliminate that stigma.

The Confess Project is using the barbershop to change the mental health narrative for young men of color and their families.

“In the barbershop, people feel safe and they feel like they can open up,” said Donald “DC The Barber” Conley, owner of Barberizm in Compton, Calif.

The Confess Project is a coalition of black barbers formed to advocate for the mental health of men who are less likely to see a therapist. “As barbers, we’re trained to cut hair, but, however, we’re also trained to read people,” Conley explains.

The benefits are based on science. Harvard researchers have found that black barbers are community gatekeepers and could help bridge the gap with mental health care.

“We believe in a culture of mental health for men and boys of color, and we believe in barbers. We just believe in the trust that they inherently have in the community,” said Travis Meade, LA program manager for The Confess Project.

The Confess Project now has over 1,000 barbers in 40 cities.

“We train them in active listening, positive communication, validation and stigma reduction,” Meade said.

Clients like Aaron Michael Peace say sitting in Conley’s chair not only helps him look good, but also makes him feel good.

“There have been absolute times throughout the week where I go through the week like, ‘dang, I’m super stressed.’ But I know Friday or Saturday I have a haircut coming up, and when the haircut comes, I can sit in that chair. I can talk to my hairdresser,” Peace said.

“The number of people I’m able to serve and help means exponentially more than the money I could ever make,” Conley said.

He also said he prides himself on providing a safe space for black men, so they can feel seen and heard.

Those looking to learn more about The Confess Project mental health locations and resources can visit their website: theconfessproject.com.

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