By Sarah Jones-Smith
LOS ANGELES — Kaiser Permanente has teamed with Charles Drew University to launch a new mental health program called Mindful Beauty.
Depression impacts the lives of more than 12 million women in America annually, according to Mental Health America. African-American women, as stated by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, are at the highest risk for experiencing major depression.
Attending bi-weekly salon appointments, one could argue that women are visiting the hair salon more often than a therapist. Despite the commonality of depression and anxiety, stigmas surrounding mental health within the black community often deter women from seeking help.
According to the executive director of the Black Beauty Shop Health Foundation, Margot LaDrew, the beauty salon is the one place that black women literally let their hair down and discuss their greatest struggles. In agreement with LaDrew’s sentiments, Kaiser Permanente prompted her health care organization with a two-year, $80,000 grant to launch the Mindful Beauty program.
“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,” LaDrew said. The five-week program will leverage the special hairstylist-client bond to provide the health outreach and education required to aid in reducing depression.
Janae Oliver, the founder of the Mindful Beauty Initiative and community health manager for Kaiser Permanente, said, “This program is about starting a real conversation through interventions that get women well before they reach the doors of our health care system.”
The program is a collaboration among South Los Angeles medical school Charles Drew University, Black Beauty Shop Health Foundation and the California Black Women’s Health Project.
Oliver thought of the program when she was a student at Charles R. Drew University. Growing up in South Los Angeles, her sister was a hairstylist. She shared client stories with Oliver and expressed that she was, “like a therapist.”
With her sister’s stories in mind and after doing research, Oliver noticed that black women typically were not represented in data about mental health. She also noticed that many people within the black community do not trust that they can visit a mental health specialist without being seen as “crazy” because of stigmas surrounding mental health issues in the black community.
Oliver and a group of classmates decided to make that the focus of their class project and Mindful Beauty was born.
Cynthia Davis, assistant professor at Charles Drew University College of Science and Health, is looking forward to launching the program, as she feels it is long overdue.
“Our hope is that the results will be very positive and that Mindful Beauty can be replicated across the country,” Davis said. Charles Drew University’s resources will be used to capture and measure the program’s outcomes.
“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,” said Maisha Oliver, celebrity hairstylist and program champion.
Oliver believes that Mindful Beauty is likely to have a positive impact on African-American women. At the end of the program, stylists in South Los Angeles beauty salons will receive certificates and will have the opportunity to their knowledge to assist black women in the community.
The program will be geared toward women 18 and over. Maisha Oliver and others will participate in training led by the California Black Women’s Health Project.
Other stylists are still going through a recruitment process and, if picked, will participate in a seven-module training. Through this training, they will learn to recognize signs of depression as well as cultural factors that should be taken into consideration.
Each case will be confidential and client referrals will take place through community clinics such as UMMA Community Clinic and ROADS Community Care Clinic. The Mindful Beauty program is expected to launch this summer.
This article originally appeared in the Wave Newspapers.