Why new mental health project marks ‘historic’ moment for Sheffield’s Black African-Caribbean community
Members of Sheffield’s Black African-Caribbean community marked a ‘historic’ moment last week, as a new project which focuses on the impact of hair care on mental health, was officially launched.
Adira, a mental health support group specifically for black women; Tyrah’s Touch, a hair salon which specialises in Afro-Caribbean hair; and J’s Barber Shop, have come together for The Black Hair Care Project.
They are working with Sheffield Flourish and Sheffield Health and Social Care, to give individuals from a African-Caribbean heritage living with mental health issues an opportunity to have their hair done for free.
Ursula Myrie of Adira, said: “This is historic. Nothing like this has been done in Sheffield.”
She told how it was ‘amazing’ that she was finally being ‘taken seriously’, despite all the going backwards and forwards that has come with launching the project.
The idea of The Black Hair Care Project came about after Ursula’s own experience when she was sectioned some years ago.
Ursula explained: “For the black community, hair is tied into mental health. It is important for us to look good.”
However, being on a ward, this is almost impossible having no or limited access to products, as hair types vary and some need a lot of oils.
She said: “You have your routine - you have to get up at a certain time, you have to eat breakfast at a certain time. You couldn’t do your hair.
“There was no way I was going out. People would see me and think I’m just a ‘mad black woman’.”
Ursula told how black women may be ‘overmedicated’ as a result of appearing to be ‘angry’, when in fact they may just be anxious - due to the stereotype of the ‘angry black woman’, the root of issues are often ignored.
In August, Ursula secured funding from the National Survivor User Network and The Coronavirus Community Support Fund.
She believes lockdown highlighted the importance of hair care to the black community and their mental health, as many treat the salon or barber shop as a therapy room.
Ursula said: “During lockdown when hairdressers were closed, service users called up about their hair - both men and women. This had a serious impact on mental health.
“For a Jamaican, if your hair isn’t right, nothing is right. Hair needs to be fixed.”
Ursula told how The Black Hair Care Project was a chance for people to be educated and to think outside the box when it comes to black mental health.
She said: “Non black people wouldn’t think of the impact of hair.”
Salim Murama, of J’s Barber Shop, said: “The way you look is going to determine the level of confidence.”
He believes hair might be a ‘simple matter’ to most people, but combined with other issues, it could make a person’s mental health deteriorate.
Jay’s Barber Shop, which is a family business, has chosen to take part in the project to ‘give back’ to the community.
Salim, who has been working in the hair industry on and off for 15 years, said: “We are in the midst of a turning point. We all count on what everybody does. To live better together.”
He described the effect such a project would have on an individual suffering from mental health issues, adding: “It would mean not being frustrated, better communication with your neighbour, not being shy - cohesion in the community.”
Tyrah Myrie, of Tyrah’s Touch, said: “The black hair care project is so important to me because I’m aware of how the UK mental health services are very westernised and adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach when this is simply not the case.
“This leads to the neglect and inadequate care of those from ethnic minority backgrounds due to the lack of cultural education.”
Tyrah, who is also Ursula’s daughter, explained: “As a young black woman myself, I know the struggles of caring for my hair and I know that other ethnicities often aren’t aware of how to manage Afro/Caribbean hair.”
The 20-year-old wants to help as many people as possible feel ‘happier’ and help them ‘take comfort in the knowledge that someone has thought about them’.
Tyrah, who is a psychology and criminology student when she is not working at the salon, added: “That alone can do a world of good for a black person's mental well-being.”
The Black Hair Care Project is Tyrah’s first business contract and she wants to use it as an opportunity to set an example to other young black people too.
She said: “Being a young black female business owner is very rewarding as I feel like I’m shattering glass ceilings in terms of limitations for women so young and breaking barriers as a young black entrepreneur because something as equally achievable as owning a business would’ve been unthinkable in previous centuries for black people.
“I am proud of myself to say the least and I hope to encourage other young black people to start up businesses and realise, they too can be their own boss and be successful beyond measure.”
The Black Hair Care Project is currently able to help 80 people across Sheffield.
Those well enough for day release will be able to go to the salon and those not well enough may be visited on the ward.
Organisations can refer service users but places will be given on a first come first served basis.
The Black Hair Care Project is claimed to be the first of its kind in Sheffield but other organisations have said they want to be involved.
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