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Barbers as Mental Health First Responders in Black Communities

“Transforming barbershops into mental health sanctuaries! Explore the groundbreaking 'Self Care Through Hair' initiative by Black Mental Health Canada. Barbers are now trained as first responders, fostering community support and breaking mental health stigma.”

Black Wall St. MediaContributor

In the bustling Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Niaimani Thomas, originally from Jamaica, has transformed her passion for cutting hair into a unique avenue for community well-being.

Since immigrating to Canada in 2013, Thomas has established herself as the proud owner of Klean Kut Barbershop and Salon, where the intimate relationships she fosters with her clients reflect the profound connections often found in barbershops and hair salons.

Last summer marked the launch of an unprecedented initiative by Black Mental Health Canada (BMHC) – “Self Care Through Hair.”

This groundbreaking program seeks to harness the existing bond between barbers and their clients, providing mental health training to barbers and hairdressers. In doing so, it becomes the first of its kind to enlist these professionals in addressing mental health stigma within the Black community.

Leading this transformative training is Duane Wiafe, a registered social worker and psychotherapist with 15 years of expertise in the criminal justice system.

The program has already successfully trained seven barbers across the Greater Toronto Area, empowering them with skills as Black Mental Health First Responders.

This specialized training equips barbers to offer immediate support during mental health crises, encompassing essential elements such as active listening, trauma recognition, distress reduction, and strategies to combat stigma within their communities.

Moreover, the initiative encourages collaborations between participating barbershops and professional service providers, ensuring seamless referrals to psychotherapists when necessary.

Sheldon Walker, a seasoned barber working alongside Niaimani Thomas, underscores the pivotal role of the barbershop as a sanctuary – a sacred and safe space for clients to open up about their struggles in ways they might not elsewhere. He recognizes the barbershop as a vital channel for reaching community members facing various challenges.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, shed light on mental health disparities.

A survey revealed that 27.9% of Black visible-minority respondents reported fair or poor mental health, compared to 22.9% of white respondents.

Alice Wiafe, a registered psychotherapist and president of BMHC, acknowledges that these numbers might underestimate the actual mental health challenges within the Black community due to a pervasive lack of trust in the system.

Founded in 2019, BMHC is dedicated to enhancing the mental health of Black Canadians. “Self Care Through Hair,” launched in 2023, employs tailored approaches to combat mental health stigma and provide culturally appropriate assistance.

Buoyed by a $1.1-million commitment from the Public Health Agency of Canada, BMHC plans to introduce two new programs in 2024.

One of these upcoming initiatives, “Health Education and Resources for Overcoming Emotional and Mental Health Struggles (HEROES),” takes aim at persistent mental health challenges faced by children.

The program seeks to introduce mental health education in schools, particularly in underserved communities.

BMHC remains committed to providing easier access to Black-centered and culturally appropriate mental health assistance, recognizing the urgency of addressing mental health challenges among Black children.

In the words of Alice Wiafe, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” underscoring the significance of investing in the mental well-being of Black children for a resilient and vibrant community.

BMHC’s journey continues as it strives to develop impactful programs that cater to the specific needs of the Black community in Canada, redefining the role of barbers as mental health advocates.

Black Wall St. MediaContributor

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