GSU Researcher Helps Improve Mental Health Literacy Among Barbers Serving Black Communities


The stigma of mental health is a prevailing issue among African Americans in general and African American men specifically, according to Dr. Kevin Washington, head of the Department of Psychology/Sociology at Grambling State University.

“Although Black adults are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults, Blacks are less likely to seek mental health care for a variety of reasons,” he said, explaining that among the causes of non-care seeking among Black men are racism, discrimination, stigma and distrust of the health care system.

Washington has developed a mental health curriculum called Barbershop Embedded Education (BEE). His curriculum for African American men was used as part of an innovative mental health literacy enhancement initiative implemented in an urban city in the Northeast region of the United States. The Mental Health Improvement through Study, Teaching, Rebranding, Embedded Education, and Technology (MHISTREET) initiative was aimed at improving mental health literacy among barbers serving in Black community.

Research findings were published this month in an article entitled The MHISTREET: Barbershop Embedded Education Initiative. The paper is co-authored by Washington, Dr. Nnemdi Kamanu Elias, Alfred Larbi, and Erin Athey. Elias, an internal medicine doctor and Athey, a nurse practitioner, are co-founders of the MHISTREET program.

In this initiative, Washington trained barbers, who became known as the BEE Squad, to be early responders to mental health challenges. He also facilitated barbershop talk sessions on mental health and other presented issues such as racism, Black manhood and Black fatherhood/parenting.

Research findings from this study suggest that affirming alliances between barbers, health care providers and community stakeholders is possible, Washington said.

Such alliances can provide a non-traditional, non-healthcare platform for Black men to share and hear stories of mental health resilience, encourage mental health-related conversations among barbershop clients, and serve as a bridge to mental health services, he said, adding that strategies for mental wellness were also provided.

Washington aims to conduct similar research in Black barbershops in some urban/rural cities in the southern states within the U.S. as a way to promote optimal mental health within the Black community.

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