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Improving Depression through ‘Mindful Beauty’

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Beauty shops have long served as neighborhood hubs where clients often feel comfortable sharing their personal stories with their hairstylists. An innovative program spearheaded by the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science(CDU) will leverage those special bonds to help improve mental health and health equity in South Los Angeles. 

Called “Mindful Beauty,” the pilot educational program will train African American stylists to spot signs of depression in their customers and refer them to local treatment and support services as appropriate. 

“Many black women don’t seek professional treatment for mental health issues,” said Sonya Young Aadam, chief executive officer, California Black Women’s Health Project. “In addition to the limited availability of mental health resources, there’s also a cultural stigma that they’re supposed to be strong and deal with it on their own, or they fear people will call them crazy, or they think it can be ‘prayed away.’”

Expected to launch in early 2019, the Mindful Beauty collaborative involves several community partners: 

“The prevalence of depression is growing,” said John Yamamoto, vice president, community health and government relations, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals/Health Plan. “For people suffering from depression, the effects can be devastating, negatively impacting their ability to relate to others, do well in their work, and enjoy quality of life. But depression is a treatable condition. The Mindful Beauty program is a unique way to help black women with depression in under-resourced communities receive the care they need to live healthy, happy lives.”

Depression is more common in women

Approximately 16 million U.S. adults experience major depression each year, with women nearly twice as likely as men to develop it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health

People of all ages and racial and socioeconomic backgrounds suffer from depression, affecting some groups more than others due to stigma in seeking treatment, limited access to care, and other barriers. According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health report, African Americans are 20 percent more likely than the general population to experience serious mental health conditions, including major depression. 

Five hair salons are being recruited to participate in Mindful Beauty. Each of these salons will enlist two hairstylists who will complete a seven-week training curriculum led by licensed mental health professionals. 

“Women are the health CEO of the family. Given that black women visit the salon an average of 2.5 times a month – and some even weekly – the beauty shop is an ideal place to educate women and equip them with practical tools for improving their family’s health. Stylists are trusted by their clients, and black beauty shops have always been a haven where women discuss and share everything.”

--Margo Wade LaDrew, executive director and founder, Black BeautyShop Health Foundation

“Every week, I have 20, 30 people in my chair,” said Dana Nelson, a 35-year hairstylist in South Los Angeles who works at the Turning Heads Spa Salon and Boutique. “It would be wonderful to be able to direct customers who may be experiencing depression to the appropriate resources for their needs.”

Cynthia Davis, MPH, assistant professor, College of Science and Health, CDU, looks forward to launching the Mindful Beauty program that she describes as long overdue. At the end of the pilot, a program assessment will help determine next steps. “Our hope is that the results will be very positive, and that Mindful Beauty can be replicated across the country,” said Davis.

For more comments from LaDrew and Nelson, check out this short video.

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s work in the community, visit http://community.kp.org.