Suicide rates in the Black community are on the rise. An Ohio barbershop is stepping up
The buzz of the cutters at Revive Station Barbershop in Warren often overlaps with a steady flow of conversation.
Barber Adrian Favors – known by his clients as Big A – is chatting with two young clients on a day in late February. He occasionally pauses his trimming to ask the boys about everything from sports, to school to their favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
The questions change from client to client. But one remains the same each session: How are you doing?
“I’ve had a lot of guys break down and cry,” Favors said. “That was frowned upon pre-pandemic: ‘Suck it up man,' you know. But, sometimes you do need to let the emotion out to figure things out.”
The number of suicides across Ohio is increasing, and Black Ohioans are among the hardest hit, according to a recent report by the Health Policy Institute. Suicide deaths in the Black community have increased 56% in the last 14 years.
It’s leading some Ohioans to bring mental health resources into Black-dominated spaces. In northeast Ohio, the Warren community is looking to barbers, like Favors, to help.
A comfortable space
Many Black men often feel comfortable opening up to their barbers about tough issues, Favors said. Whether it’s hearing about financial struggles or insecurities, he said haircuts are often an intimate experience.
“It's hard to hide in the chair,” Favors said. “Even if it's not the first session, it's gonna eventually happen.”
When it does, Favors does more than just provide a listening ear. He hands his clients a packet of information on where they can go to get help.
That packet comes from the Life Is Better With You Here campaign. It’s a statewide effort to bring mental health resources to Black Ohioans and hopefully prevent suicide.
“We have to meet people where they are to get the message out,” said Shanette Strickland, who leads the campaign. “And what we find is: if we're not going to those places, they're not seeing it, they're not hearing it."
Strickland said COVID-19 has taken a large toll on mental health within the community. On top of that, stigma is still a big barrier, she said.
“For so long, we in the Black community, just never really never talked about it,” she said.
"If we're not going to those places, they're not seeing it, they're not hearing it.”Shanette Strickland with the Life is Better With You Here campaign
A necessary reminder
Nikita Warfield, a behavioral therapist and prevention specialist, wanted to change that.
While the “Life is Better With You Here” campaign already existed for two years, Warfield brought it to barbershops after seeing an uptick in Black children admitted into the emergency room where she works, many for attempting suicide.
“Our units would be over inundated,” Warfield said. “It used to uncommon for them to say ‘I'm in here for trying to kill myself.’ But then it became common.”
She wanted the community to remember that they’re loved. She said that’s what saved her when she was struggling with her mental health. It stopped her from writing a suicide note of her own.
“Knowing that someone needs you here, it's the one thing that's like, ‘Okay, I'm gonna put the pen down,’” she said.
So, she’s printed that message — “Life is Better With You Here” — all over Revive Station. It’s on the packets by the fridge, it’s hanging on the mirror clings. And, pretty soon it will be on the smocks.
The next step
The ‘Barbershop Initiative’ is only growing. What started with Favors and Warfield in just one Warren barbershop has grabbed the attention of six other barbers in the community.
“We all love the community,” Favors said. “And the state of the community right now is terrible. … It’s time to work.”
Warfield agrees that there’s more work to be done. She said the packets were a good first step; the next is training all the barbers in mental health first aid.
She sees it as a tool – the same as scissors or a comb. Except this one stops a life from being cut too short.
“If we have people like Big A in a community, that's an ear and a catalyst and can help us then why not?”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can call 9-8-8 for help.