A Wichita barber says the family atmosphere in his shop allows him to help customers with more than just haircuts.
He says the atmosphere allows his mostly African American clients to feel more comfortable talking about issues, and he hopes this can help start deeper conversations about mental health, a topic many tend to avoid and ignore.
A typical day at Mark Paris The Shoppe, near 21st and Woodlawn in northeast Wichita, includes plenty of laughs and conversations, often about sports. But barber Mark Walker says clients also discuss serious topics, even mental health.
"Quite naturally, you know, if you're dealing with any kind of issues on that level and if your'e sitting in my chair, if something runs through your mind that I may have some experience in, go ahead. Let's touch bases," Walker says.
Walker has been a barber in Wichita for about 20 years. While his shop has provided an outlet, he says there is a stigma among African American men to talk about their problems. It's a challenge, even in environments where men feel more comfortable.
"We feel like that would give us like a weak persona," Walker says. "Like, 'he's a weak man for going and seeking help for that. He could've just dealt with that.'"
Barbershop customer Troy Andrews says the reluctance among the community to openly discuss problems and mental health comes in large part from how many of today's men grew up.
"In most cases, we're taught not to have emotions or to be emotionless, and that really is traumatizing," Andrews says.
Research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness shows the African American community overall experiences mental health conditions at comparable rates to the general population, but receives significantly less treatment.
Mental health therapist Shaundrieka Townes says barbershops are one of many safe spaces for these conversations and she hopes that opens doors for more people to seek professional help.
"It's cultural. It's, 'we can do it, we've survived so long this way, this is how we do it, the things that are in the home don't come out of the home, we have to keep our secrets close to us,'" Townes says.
While Walker says he's not a therapist, he hopes he can encourage people to get professional help if they need it.
Townes says if you don't feel comfortable seeking professional help to address mental health issues, you can contact the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP.