The Bluemind Foundation has launched an innovative initiative to address the severe lack of accessible mental health care in West and Central Africa by training hairdressers as mental health ambassadors.
In countries where mental health therapy is scarce and awareness is limited, the program has empowered hairdressers to provide much-needed support.
This initiative is particularly significant in the World Health Organization's Africa region, which has the highest suicide rate globally and some of the lowest public expenditures on mental health.
Marie-Alix de Putter, the founder of the Bluemind Foundation, designed the program in 2018 based on the observation that African women spend a significant amount of time in hair salons.
By training hairdressers, the initiative reaches women in spaces where they are comfortable.
And the informal and affordable setting of the salon provides a safe space for clients to share their struggles, allowing stylists to offer gentle guidance and support during the hairstyling process.
Hairdressers undergo three days of training, learning how to ask open-ended questions, spot nonverbal signs of distress, and avoid gossip or detrimental advice.
These "mental health ambassadors" play a crucial role as they often become confidantes for clients who share their financial struggles, emotional pain, or experiences of domestic violence during salon visits.
Recognizing the impact of their role, hairdressers refer clients to professional therapists when necessary.
The Bluemind Foundation has trained approximately 150 women in mental health counseling across West and Central African cities, recognizing the critical need for mental health care in one of the world's poorest regions.
Why is this good news?
In many African countries, the shortage of mental health workers is alarming, with an average of only 1.6 mental health workers per 100,000 people, compared to the global median of 13, according to the World Health Organization.
The Bluemind Foundation's program not only addresses the mental health gap by training hairdressers — it also seeks to destigmatize mental health issues in communities where such topics remain foreign concepts, and its unique approach represents a step toward addressing the mental health crisis in West and Central Africa, recognizing the importance of community engagement and culturally sensitive interventions.
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