The Academy Award-nominated actress says the lack of discussion and confrontation around mental health is dangerous.
On Friday (June 7), actress and mental health advocate Taraji P. Henson spent time on Capitol Hill speaking to members of the Black Caucus and encouraging them to join in the conversation about mental health.
Henson, the founder of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation and Empire star, tells People that the lack of discussion and confrontation around mental health is dangerous.
“The suicide rate has taken off,” Henson told People. “It amazes me that 5-year-olds are contemplating suicide. That’s a word you shouldn’t even understand at five years old.”
Henson added, “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.”
On Friday, Henson also spent time talking to reporters and interacting with guests at a benefit dinner held prior to a conference called “Can We Talk,” which focused on mental health in the black community.
“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,’” she told People.
Henson says that she supports the idea of mental health being taught in schools. That way children are aware of it, but parents would also be encouraged to discuss it with their children more often.
“If we can teach children about sex education and physical education, why not mental?” she said. “That’s where we start attacking this issue: with the children.”
Earlier this year, Henson opened up about her own struggles with depression and anxiety, as well as the mental health challenges facing the black community.
Henson began her own foundation in memory of her father, who struggled with PTSD and manic depression. Her father died in 2005, shortly after the father of her son was murdered in Washington, D.C. It was then that Henson began to search for a therapist.
“It was like looking for a purple unicorn with a 24-karat-gold horn,” she tells People. “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.”
Henson says she now talks to her therapist about twice a week, sometimes with her fiancé.
“I want people to know it’s okay,” Henson said. “I don’t know what human is not suffering from some sort of anxiety or depression.”
In the end, it’s OK to struggle, Henson says. She encourages people to reach out and ask for help.
“It’s okay not to be okay,” she said. “Just talk about it.”