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Confess Project’s Lorain County efforts to reduce suicide rates of Black men are noble | Editorial

September 23, 2023 at 7:15 a.m.

A group of Lorain County nonprofits deserves credit for helping barbers and stylists become mental health advocates in an effort to reduce the suicide rate among Black men.

Mental Health, Addiction & Recovery Services Board of Lorain County, Elyria YWCA, Community Foundation of Lorain County and the Lorain County Suicide Prevention Coalition are responsible for professional barbers and hair stylists coming together Sept. 18 to participate in The Confess Project of America at the YWCA in downtown Elyria.

The Confess Project of America, based in Atlanta, fosters mental health advocacy in the Black barber and beauty industry by building awareness, breaking stigma and increasing access to care in the communities they serve.

It is a grassroots initiative designed to reduce suicide rates among Black men.

In a report released Feb. 17, 2023, from the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2020, suicide was the third leading cause of death for African Americans ages 15 to 24.

The death rate from suicides for Black men was four times greater than for Black women in 2018.

And, the overall suicide rate among Blacks was 60 percent higher than that of the non Hispanic white population, in 2018.

The Confess Project noticed and decided to do something about it.

It determined that based on research which proves men, especially Black men, are more inclined to have real conversations with their barbers.

As a result, training these barbers to effectively react to and support their clients was a natural focus.

The goal is to save lives.

Barbershops can be that beacon of hope because they are places where social interaction occurs.

They tend to be public forums where all kinds of conversations take place.

One could walk into a barbershop and engage in a debate about families, relationships, politics, the latest in clothes, sports, religion and just about anything.

It’s common for men to tell a barber about how long it has been since he had his most recent haircut, about his lifestyle and specifics about how he wants his hair to look.

But, what about a person suffering from mental illness or a situation where he needs to talk to someone for comfort?

Lorain County mental health leaders believe they have the answer, and it is The Confess Project.

Mimi Nelson, chief operations officer for The Confess Project of America, points out that the movement gained traction in Lorain County despite challenges from coronavirus pandemic regulations.

In early 2020, it had about 70 barbers trained across the country.

The Confess Project received a lot of resources early in the pandemic.

Now, The Confess Project has trained a staggering number of more than 3,500 barbers.

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 that the role of hair professionals in mental health advocacy is crucial.

Young has worked in the industry for 22 years and actually has grown with many of her clients, watching them navigate through the world and life changes.

A lot of times, Young is the only person a struggling customer talks to 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 of The Confess Project 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.

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

According to The Confess Project of America’s website, with one in five people in the U.S affected by mental illness, there’s never been a more urgent moment for mental health advocacy.

Programming offered by The Confess Project specifically focuses on communities of color who have far too long borne the brunt and weight of trauma alone.

The Confess Project deserves credit for trying to reach as many advocates as possible.

This effort by Lorain County mental health leaders is a good initiative for the area.

Hopefully, those suffering will benefit.