‘Come to us for help:’ Milwaukee takes innovative approach to promoting mental wellness

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Gaulien "Gee" Smith

MILWAUKEE -- As the stigma behind mental health continues to diminish --  the realization of just how big of a problem it actually is continues to grow, but a new initiative in Milwaukee is aimed at addressing the problem in a unique way.

At Gee's Clippers, a barber shop that looks more like a sports arena than a place to get your hair cut -- beauticians, nail stylists and barbers on Monday, April 15 got a crash course in psychology.

"Oh my God, the things people load on us," said Gaulien "Gee" Smith, Gee's Clippers.

Smith has been a barber for more than 25 years, but what he learned on Monday had more to do with what's going on inside his client's head, rather than what's on top of it.

Muneebah Abdullah

"Client might be going through a divorce, or might have just lost their job. They come to us for help, for an ear," said Smith.

As mental health becomes less taboo, these people are on the front lines of someone's bad day.

"They work in the community. They are often the first encounter," said Muneebah Abdullah, therapist.

At the guidance of the City of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention -- licensed therapists gave the business leaders the tools to do more than just cut hair.

"So the training is focused on training barbers and stylists at recognizing challenges that may be related to mental health, but also be a connector for basic needs," said Reggie Moore, Office of Violence Prevention.

The training taught them how to know when to just listen, and when to act.

"We just want them to be a stronger resource," said Moore.

"The more comfortable we are with talking about it, then the better asset we can be to our community," said Abdullah.

Monday's session what just the pilot program of this initiative. Moore said the response was positive, and they're looking to expand.

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