Barbershops are central hubs for Black communities: a safe haven where people can embrace their community, discuss societal change, economic problems, share ideas and confide in others.  

The unique position of barbers is why The Confess Project, which seeks to encourage dialogue about the mental and emotional health of Black men, trains barbers across the South and Midwest to become mental health advocates.

Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Black, Hispanic/Latino and multiracial youth had the highest risk of suicide, according to a July 2022 report by JAMA, an open access medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

During the training at Jackson Convention Complex, experts discussed how to approach a client when he expresses issues related to mental health and how to recognize warning signs of mental illness. Experts talked to the barbers about how to respond if a client is suicidal and what resources to provide.

Barber Michael Johnson, who works at Traxler’s School of Hair in Jackson and owns MJ’s Blazzin’ Fades, attended the local training.

“It made me see where I fit into the solution because I come in contact with a lot of people when I’m cutting hair,” said Johnson. “It taught me how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness. It also allowed me to step outside of myself and pay attention to others and see where I can help.”

Barber Michael Johnson, 50, waits for clients outside of Traxler’s School of Hair in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Barbers and hair stylists often act as de facto therapists, he said. They hear intimate details of their clients’ lives and problems while behind the chair.

“People come here and open up, and some of them can cry out without opening their mouths,” Johnson said. “Some people learn to cope, but they never got over their trauma. I try to voice anything that I can do to help the situation and be careful to not judge.”

BROTHERS Barbershop Initiative is also tackling physical health by installing blood pressure machines in barbershops and teaching barbers how to perform blood pressure screenings and to recognize any blood pressure-related signs and symptoms in clients.


We want to hear from you!

By listening more intently and understanding the people who make up Mississippi’s communities, our reporters put a human face on how policy affects everyday Mississippians. We’re listening closely to our readers to help us continue to align our work with the needs and priorities of people from all across Mississippi. Please take a few minutes to tell us what’s on your mind by clicking the button below.


Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Eric J. Shelton was a 2018 corps member in Report for America, and joined the team as our first photojournalist. A native of Columbia, Miss., Eric earned his bachelor’s in photojournalism from the University of Southern Mississippi. He was a multimedia journalist for Abilene Reporter-News, chief photographer for the Hattiesburg American and photo editor for the Killeen Daily Herald before joining our team June 2018. He rejoined Mississippi Today as our health photojournalist in January 2022.