In California, a barbershop helps Black men cope with mental health issues

The Greater Sacramento Urban League has served hundreds with barbershop group therapy sessions, including at Kendall Robinson's Five Starr Fades.

A California barbershop is offering more than haircuts as it aims to help Black men cope with mental health issues.

Kendall Robinson has cut Black men’s hair while also taking the time to listen and talk to them about their issues at Five Starr Fades for decades, according to Spectrum News.

“The barbershop is one of the most safe places you can go and feel relaxed,” said Robinson, noting that the familial feeling led him to allow the Greater Sacramento Urban League to host monthly evening group therapy sessions called Cut to the Chase.

Black men mental health
The familial and relaxed setting of a barbershop is conducive to mental health therapy, said Kendall Robinson, whose Sacramento shop is a venue for such sessions. (Photo credit: Adobe Stock)

Robinson said the sessions have vastly benefited him as he grapples with vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that causes parts of the skin to lose pigment or color.

“I have to look at the man in the mirror and say, ‘Man, I don’t like what I look like today,'” said Robinson. “But today, because of the men I’m affiliated with, I have better coping skills now.”

A recent study conducted by the California Health Care Foundation revealed that around 50% of Black Californians who suffer from mental health issues say they receive poor treatment from medical professionals, Spectrum reported.

GSUL’s chief impact officer, Dr. Troy Williams, said the introduction of the barbershop sessions was partly motivated by the study’s results and the realization that Black people need additional mental health services.

“We knew that there was a decline in mental health, and we knew that our community needed access to mental health services,” said Williams. “So eventually when we created this program, we absolutely knew that the turnout would be phenomenal.”

Williams said the program, scheduled at two sites, has served over 450 people in six months, attributing part of the success to the mental health professionals at the sessions.

Given the workshops’ success, Robinson, Williams, and therapist Bryant Howard, who collaborates with GSUL, shared that there will soon be sessions in salons for Black women.

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“It’s so important that we’re doing these here because there’s no stigma here,” said Howard, Spectrum reported. “There’s no stigma to having a conversation about what’s real inside anyone in particular. So we can talk about really, really deeper level things.”

The American Psychological Association reported that the issue of police brutality against Black men, epitomized by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, highlighted the unique mental stressors experienced by Black men.

Psychologists recommend innovative approaches such as community programs held in barbershops and other local venues, outreach through technology and social media, and national networks dedicated to advancing Black men’s mental health and well-being. 

Dr. Wizdom Powell, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut and director of the Health Disparities Institute, emphasizes that the more systems and providers adopt culturally relevant methods to support Black men’s mental health, including addressing racial trauma directly, the greater the benefits for society as a whole.

“We should place less emphasis on whether Black men are resistant to therapy,” said Dr. Howard C. Stevenson, a national expert in helping people of color address and recover from racism, APA reported, “and more on understanding the contexts in which they already feel comfortable talking about their feelings and traumas.” He continued: “If a Black man is able to find a treatment that is culturally responsive, that he understands, and that embraces the uniqueness of his difference, he is more likely to use that service.”

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