Taraji P. Henson on a mission to de-stigmatize mental health in the wake of alarming suicide rates

Taraji P. Henson wants more people to talk about mental health.

The 48-year-old actress struggles with depression and anxiety and has said more needs to be done to support people who are battling their mental health because the rising suicide rate is unacceptable.

She said: “The suicide rate has taken off. It amazes me that 5-year-olds are contemplating suicide. That’s a word you shouldn’t even understand at five years old. We don’t talk about mental health, we don’t deal with it. For generations, we’ve been told it’s a weakness, to pray our problems away – and that’s just not gonna cut it.

“I’m only one voice. I need help. If we can teach children about sex education and physical education, why not mental? That’s where we start attacking this issue: with the children.” According to a post on Instagram, Henson’s addressed mental health issues and growing suicide rates within the African Community before Congress and got emotional as she spoke about the plight of those suffering from mental health.

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🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾💋💋💋 #Repost @iamjessiemiles ・・・ @tarajiphenson got emotional while speaking in front of congress on mental health! @blhensonfoundation Photos: @gettyimages⠀ Taraji P. Henson got emotional as she testified before Congress on Friday about the need for mental health counselors and education, especially in the black community, in wake of a rise in suicides of young people. The Empire star, who has an adult son, also talked about her own battle with depression and anxiety, which she has been open about, as she spoke before the Congressional Black Caucus Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health. "I really don't know how to fix this problem, I just know that the suicide rate is rising," she said. "I just know that ages of the children that are committing suicide are getting younger and younger." A study published in JAMA Pediatrics earlier this year showed that between 2007 and 2015, annual ER visits relating to suicide by people aged 5 to 18 rose from 2.2 percent to 3.5 percent, and from 580,000 to 1.2 million. "It breaks my heart to know that 5-year-old children are contemplating life and death," Henson said. "I just…I'm sorry. That one is tough for me. So I'm here to appeal to you, because this is a national crisis. When I hear of kids going into bathrooms, cutting themselves, you're supposed to feel safe in school." "I'm here using my celebrity, using my voice, to put a face to this because I also suffer from depression and anxiety," she continued. "And if you're a human living in today's world, I don't know how you're not suffering in any way, I mean if you turn on the news, that's PTSD right there. We need each other. This is me reaching across the table, trying to lend a helping hand in the best way I can. We have to save the children." •

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The ‘Empire’ star believes she’s “found [her] purpose” in helping other people get the care they need for their mental health, and admits she struggled getting the right help at first.

She added: “I feel like I’ve really found my purpose. [But finding a therapist was hard.] It was like looking for a purple unicorn with a 24-carat-gold-horn. I say that jokingly, but it’s serious. The reason why we don’t have many psychiatrists of color, or psychologists of color, or therapists of color, is because we don’t talk about it at home.”

As well as speaking out about her own struggle, Taraji has set up the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation last year as reported by The Sauce, which she named after her father – who died in 2005 – and which aims to eradicate the stigma around mental health.

And the ‘What Men Want’ actress says she wants to use her platform to continue lending a voice to those who are suffering in silence.

Speaking to People magazine, she said: “I felt that if a face or a personality you could trust would come forward to say, ‘Hey, you know, I suffered too – that would make others feel safe. I’ve had a few friends call me and say, ‘Bravo, thank you so much, you have no idea what I go through’.”

Taraji also hosted the ‘Can We Talk?’ conference and benefit dinner in Washington D.C. during this weekend, June 7th-9th. The summit started on June 7th with a benefit dinner for 300 attendees, where a keynote address was delivered by Dr. Altha J. Stewart, the first African-American and first woman to be named President of the American Psychiatric Association.

Taraji P. Henson made history as the first black actress in the history to win the Critics Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series in 2017 for her role in ‘Empire’.

Apart from her work as an actress, the Howard University graduate has also taken on the work to destigmatize mental health within the African American community. The ‘Can We Talk’ conference and benefit dinner is the first of many projects she hopes will create change in the highly ostracized community.

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