African American hairstylists in South L.A. will be trained to spot depression through Mindful Beauty program. Courtesy photo.

Depression affects more than 12 million women in the United States annually, according to Mental Health America; and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, African American women are at the highest risk for experiencing major depression.

Despite the commonality of depression and anxiety, stigmas surrounding mental health within the black community oftentimes keep women from seeking help. However, according to Margot LaDrew, executive director of The Black Beauty Shop Health Foundation, there is one particular place where black women literally let their hair down and share their greatest struggles— the beauty salon.

“Beauty salons have long served as safe spaces where black women have felt comfortable sharing the most intimate details of their lives, greatest struggles, and personal stories,” LaDrew said.

African American women are at the highest risk for experiencing major depression, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Courtesy photo.

Kaiser Permanente Southern California agrees with her, prompting the health care organization to award a 2-year, $80,000 mental health and wellness grant to launch a program called Mindful Beauty. The program is run by Charles Drew University, and will focus on black hair stylists in South Los Angeles who will be trained to spot signs of depression in their customers and refer them, as appropriate, to local treatment and support groups.

“This program is about starting a real conversation through interventions that get to women well before they reach the doors of our health care system,” said Janae Oliver, founder of the Mindful Beauty Initiative and community health manager for Kaiser Permanente.

One could argue that because many women have recurring bi-weekly salon appointments, they are, in fact, visiting the hair stylist more times a year than they would a therapist or a health care provider for non-chronic conditions.

“Given that black women visit hair salons an average of 2.5 times a month, which is at least 30 times a year, the beauty shop is an ideal place to educate women and equip them with practical tools to improve their health” said Margo LaDrew, founder and executive director of the Black Beauty Shop Health Foundation. “Mindful Beauty is an innovative mental health program that allows us to smartly and safely start the process of reducing the stigma behind mental health.”

Hairstylists in South L.A. provide intervention to reduce depression in African American women.Courtesy Photo.

Maisha Oliver, a celebrity hair stylist and program champion, said Mindful Beauty is likely to have a very positive impact for women in the African American community.

“As a hairstylist for over 20 years, I have often found that I am one of the few people outside of a close friend, family member, intimate partner or physician that has knowledge of the issues that women who sit in my chair face on a daily basis,” she explained.

The 5-week culturally competent program, which launches this summer, will leverage the special hairstylist-client bond to provide the health outreach and education needed to help reduce depression.

At the end of the program, hairstylist will receive certificates and will have the opportunity to be a Depression & Mental Health Community Advocate, able to use what they’ve learned to help black women in the community.

The mental health intervention program is a collaboration among Charles Drew University, Black Beauty Shop Health Foundation and the California Black Women’s Health Project. Cynthia Davis, assistant professor at Charles Drew University, College of Science and Health, is looking forward to launching the Mindful Beauty Program. Davis will utilize university resources to capture data to measure the program’s outcomes.