The New York Times is reporting about an organization founded by 2023 Tutu Fellow Marie-Alix de Putter. Her Bluemind Foundation is providing training to hairdressers to be mental health ambassadors, to make an impact on the limited mental healthcare available in Africa.
The NYT article begins with the account of a woman in Togo, who had lost her brother and was having a hard time dealing with her grief. She knew she needed help, but couldn't afford therapy. Instead, she found help from an unexpected counsellor - her hairdresser. Her hairdresser had noticed the changes and created a safe space to share her struggles.
That hairdresser is one of around 150 women who have received mental health training in West and Central Africa through Marie-Alix's foundation. It seeks to provide mental healthcare in some of the poorest areas of Africa. On her website, she says someone takes their own life every 40 seconds; 79% of suicides worldwide take place in low-income countries. Making circumstances more challenging, in the majority of African countries, there is an average of only therapist for every half million inhabitants.
Hair salons have long been used by nonprofits and community groups as places to raise awareness around issues like reproductive health among clients and apprentices. This initiative provides hairdressers three days of training on how to elicit information safely, how not to give detrimental advice, and tools for referrals to trained mental health practitioners.
Marie-Alix is herself no stranger to the mental health challenges she herself experienced after her husband was killed in Cameroon. It was this experience that underpins her commitment to her foundation and the initiative itself. The hairdressers also have a resource in the Bluemind Foundation for their own therapy, to counter any impacts from their work as Mental Health Ambassadors.
You can read the full piece at the New York Times. There is also more at the Bluemind Foundation site.
The header image is by Yagazie Emezie, courtesy the NYT article, of Adama Adaku attending to a customer at her salon who has been trained through the foundation.