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Helping black men discuss mental health

Confess Project uses barber shops for discussions

DAVE GONG | For The Journal Gazette

In Lorenzo Lewis' eyes, barber shops are important resources when trying to raise community awareness about mental health. “Barbers are naturally already leaders,” Lewis said. “Everybody, whether you're somebody that's homeless or a school principal, everyone knows the local barbers.” Barber shops, Lewis said, are places where people naturally congregate and discuss anything from politics to sports to relationships. Mental health can be a part of those conversations and help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. Lewis, who founded The Confess Project, hosted discussions Saturday at Precision Cuts Barber Shop, 7504 S. Anthony Blvd., and 2K Tight Barber Shop, 3230 S. Clinton St. The events were sponsored via a partnership between Purdue Fort Wayne's Behavioral Health and Family Studies Institute, Parkview Behavioral Health, the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Stop Suicide of Northeast Indiana and Fort Wayne Girlz Rock.

The Confess Project is an initiative that confronts the perceived shame of mental health problems by men of color. Lewis, during his presentations, encourages people to confess to their issues and begin working toward better living. Lewis was born in jail to an incarcerated mother and struggled with depression, anxiety and anger throughout his youth. On Saturday, Lewis said the Fort Wayne events were a big deal for him and The Confess Project. “It was an awesome opportunity to come here and ignite strategy, have organic and authentic conversations with community members and talk about how we can utilize some of these efforts to see our communities thrive more socially, economically and be more healthy overall,” he said. Alice Jordan-Miles, director of PFW's Behavioral Health and Family Studies Institute, said it's important to remove the stigma around mental health, something Lewis' organization strives to do. Too many people, especially men, Jordan-Miles said, suffer in silence. “I believe that the stigma around mental health really prevents people from getting help,” she said. “They're either made fun of or considered less than or weak. Especially in the minority community, we've always had to be strong.” Communities need to begin encouraging people – especially men – to acknowledge their mental health, Jordan-Miles said. “The culture has to change around mental health,” she said. Lewis continues his Fort Wayne tour today from 10 a.m. to noon at Come as You Are Community Church.

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