Kaiser Permanente: Improving Depression Through Mindful Beauty

Originally Published by Kaiser Permanente.

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 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.'”

It takes a community

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

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science designed the program and is developing and overseeing the project’s data collection and evaluation processes.

Black BeautyShop Health Foundation is conducting outreach and recruiting hair salons and stylists to participate in the program.

California Black Women’s Health Project is adapting its advocate training program curriculum to meet the needs of the hairstylists.

Kaiser Permanente Southern California recently funded the program with an $80,000, 2-year community health grant. This grant is one of 16 local partnership grants, totaling $1.28 million, that support community partners working to improve mental health in under-resourced Southern California communities.

“The prevalence of depression is growing,” said John Yamamoto, vice president, community health and government relations, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals in Southern California. “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,” Yamamoto said. “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 — but it affects some groups more than others due to stigma, which hinders 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.

A haven for women to discuss and share everything

The Mindful Beauty program is recruiting five hair salons to participate in Mindful Beauty. Each of these salons will enlist two hairstylists who will complete a 7-week training curriculum led by licensed mental health professionals.

“Women are the health CEO of the family,” said Margo Wade LaDrew, executive director and founder, Black BeautyShop Health Foundation.

“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,” Wade LaDrew said. “Stylists are trusted by their clients, and black beauty shops have always been a haven where women discuss and share everything.”

Dana Nelson, a 35-year hairstylist in South Los Angeles, agreed.

“Every week, I have 20, 30 people in my chair,” said Nelson, who works at 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 at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, 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.

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