Islington launches mental health support for young Black men

The programme will train barbers to encourage young Black men and boys to open up about their problems – and will also offer psychological therapies to those who need them

8th November 2022 about a 2 minute read
“Men don’t want to come over as: ‘I’m a soft guy’. They want to be macho." Ivelaw King, Islington barber

Islington council, in partnership with the NHS, has launched a three-year programme to support young Black men and boys with their mental health – and local barbers will be a core part of the project.

The £1.6m programme, Young Black Men and Mental Health, aims to improve both mental wellbeing and life opportunities. It has four pillars:

  • Becoming a man (BAM). Full-time counsellors will be placed in four Islington secondary schools to provide long-term support for black youth aged 16-25 at risk of poor health, violence and exclusion. Young people will receive a combination of weekly BAM groups and one-to-one mentoring support
  • The Elevate Innovation Hub. This will consist of a small multidisciplinary team made up of a senior clinical lead, clinical psychologist and Elevate therapeutic practitioners. They will work together to provide  psychological therapies and youth work interventions for young people aged between 11-25.
  • The barbers round chair project. This involves training Islington barbers in five barber shops to talk to clients about their mental health in a safe space and signpost them to professional support if necessary. Part of the aim is to build intergenerational relationships.
  • System change training and practice development. This is a programme to improve cultural competency among police, GPs, social care practitioners and schools.

Safe spaces in the community

“What we wanted to create is a lighthouse model, so that there are places in the community that offer spaces of safety, and we saw that through the barbers programme,” said Charisse Monero, the project manager.

Ivelaw King, 47, a barber from Guyana who also trained on the programme, told the Guardian he remembered one client who took his life. “Men don’t want to come over as: ‘I’m a soft guy’. They want to be macho,” King said, of the cultural reasons why some fail to seek help.

The training is an extension, King said, of what many barbers already do. “At first, they don’t really open up,” he said. “Once they get to know you, all of that becomes easier [for them] to talk about financial struggles, troubles with the missus, trouble with the children, and different aspects of their lives,” he said. “We just need more people to come out and talk about these things more.”

FCC Insight

This is a really innovative project, exploring social interaction and health. We know that Black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act, and that Black men in particular are more likely to be diagnosed with severe mental health problems. The Islington scheme tackles this through a multipronged approach that involves improving access to counselling, encouraging people to open up about their problems in a safe setting and tackling racist perceptions in setting such as GP surgeries and schools. At a time when rates of mental ill health are rocketing, this project provides a real opportunity to prevent people becoming severely mentally ill. If successful, this could provide a useful model that could be adopted more widely, and we await the results with interest.