Taraji P. Henson Focuses on Psychological Well being

Don’t name Taraji P. Henson a “robust black girl.” Her portrayal of the last word robust black girl, Cookie Lyon, within the hit Fox sequence Empire could have garnered Henson a Golden Globe award and two Emmy nominations, however she has phrases about that archetype. And miss her with “black lady magic,” too, whilst you’re at it.

“Folks count on black girls to be robust. We’re invincible. We’re magical, majestic, one thing different. You possibly can shoot us down and plow us over, and we’ll nonetheless be a beacon for our folks,” she says. “No, in case you shoot me I’m going to bleed out and die. Ain’t no black lady magic in that. Why can’t we simply be human?”

Being human and susceptible, and needing assist, is precisely what Henson is making an attempt to attract consideration to as she speaks out concerning the psychological well being points, together with despair, nervousness, and suicide, going through the black neighborhood.

She based the Boris Lawrence Henson Basis, named in honor of her father who suffered psychological well being challenges after his service in Vietnam, to assist tackle these points.

The inspiration combats the stigma surrounding psychological well being within the black neighborhood and will increase entry to culturally competent therapists by its BLHF Useful resource Information and scholarships for college kids of colour fascinated by psychology. In a pilot challenge aimed toward offering psychological well being assist in city faculties, BLHF has partnered with PROJECT 375 to offer Youth Psychological Well being First Assist Coaching and trauma-informed curriculum workshops in eight public faculties in Washington, DC.

And in April, amid information that the black neighborhood has been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the muse launched an initiative providing free teletherapy periods to African Individuals in underserved areas. People with life-changing stressors and nervousness associated to the coronavirus can have the fee for as much as 5 particular person periods defrayed on a first-come, first-served foundation till all funds are dedicated or exhausted.

“We’ve by no means been by something like this. It’s new for all of us and it’s scary,” Henson informed Essence journal. “Should you had been already affected by psychological points, this doesn’t assist. Most individuals in underserved communities can’t afford well being care. And it is best to by no means have to decide on between a meal and your psychological well being. So I felt like I wanted to do one thing.”


 “COVID-19 is hitting the black neighborhood arduous for a lot of causes, corresponding to inequality in well being care, housing, and employment,” Henson says. She notes that in Michigan, for instance, African Individuals make up 14% of the state’s inhabitants, however account for a 3rd of optimistic coronavirus checks and 40% of deaths within the state. In Louisiana, about 70% of people that have died from COVID-19 are black, despite the fact that solely one-third of the state’s inhabitants is.

“Multigenerational households residing in the identical family will probably be damaged by this. We now have grandmas elevating grandchildren, aunts and uncles residing in the identical small quarters. How can they socially distance? The place can they go? Having the ability to afford the assist and remedy that’s wanted at a time like this is able to be an enormous burden on already shattered households. Nobody ought to should ponder selecting between psychological well being and a meal,” Henson says.

Out there clinicians are listed on the muse’s web site useful resource information on its web site (borislhensonfoundation.org). Supporters may also textual content “nostigma” to 707070 or donate on the web site.

An Unmet Want

Black Individuals use psychological well being providers at about half the speed of whites, based on the Nationwide Alliance on Psychological Sickness. And a nationwide survey discovered that suicide makes an attempt amongst black adolescents rose by 73% between 1991 and 2017, whilst such makes an attempt fell for all different ethnic teams. “It’s a nationwide disaster. We’re passing down trauma and dysfunction, era after era,” Henson says. “However we’re not getting the assistance we want as a result of we had been taught to carry our issues near the vest out of worry of being additional demonized as weak or insufficient.”

Destigmatizing psychological well being within the black neighborhood and making culturally competent therapists out there is important, says Angela Neal-Barnett, PhD, director of the Program for Analysis on Nervousness Problems amongst African Individuals at Kent State College in Ohio and the creator of Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Girl’s Information to Understanding and Overcoming Nervousness, Panic, and Worry.

“Getting assist can imply the world, could make the distinction between struggling with despair or nervousness for 10 or 20 years or solely experiencing it for six months. Folks in our neighborhood typically equate psychological sickness with craziness. Should you’re depressed or anxious, you’re not ‘loopy.’ You’re depressed or anxious, and we might help you with that, the identical as a physician would assist in case you had pneumonia or a coronary heart assault,” Neal-Barnett says.


Henson is aware of that every one too properly. Her powerhouse profession has impressed many younger black ladies and men—from her 2001 breakthrough within the movie Child Boy, to her long-running function as Detective Joss Carter within the sci-fi crime drama sequence Particular person of Curiosity, to her epic efficiency as NASA scientist Katherine Johnson within the movie Hidden Figures. In 2016, she launched her best-selling autobiography, Across the Method Woman, and was named considered one of Time journal’s 100 most influential folks. However as her skilled life was skyrocketing, Henson was struggling.

It began with the February 2012 loss of life of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black highschool pupil shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman whereas strolling dwelling carrying an iced tea and a bundle of Skittles. Henson’s son, Marcell, was three years youthful than Martin on the time—and he or she turned more and more overwhelmed by nervousness.

“I turned very involved for my son. For all my family members. I turned conscious that this is able to be a problem I’d be coping with for the remainder of my life,” she says.

And the litany of younger black males killed by police or armed civilians within the years since Martin’s loss of life always runs by her thoughts: Tamir Rice. Philando Castile. Oscar Grant. Botham Jean. She worries about Marcell in addition to her husband, retired soccer participant Kelvin Hayden, with whom she tied the knot in April. “I get up in the midst of the evening and I can’t return to sleep. I’m always ready for the telephone name. If I can’t attain my son on the telephone, I feel they shot him. Nervousness is one thing I work on each day as a result of I’ve black males in my life who I really like.”

Discovering Assist for Herself

And that’s why she has no persistence for the “robust black girl” trope. “My life was going properly, and bigotry and racism intervened and now it’s ceaselessly modified. Don’t make me robust behind it. You’re not permitting me my course of. My rage. As an alternative, let’s begin a dialog and cease strolling on eggshells.”


A part of that dialog, Henson says, is the way in which that the psychological well being subject fails to fulfill the wants of the African American neighborhood. With all of her sources, it took Henson years to discover a therapist who might assist her. “I went by fairly just a few unhealthy ones, the place I’d depart feeling worse than once I went in,” she says. “I used to be speaking to my good friend Gabby [actress Gabourey Sidibe] about it, and he or she mentioned, ‘That you must go see my physician.’ I fell in love with that girl, and I’m nonetheless asking her to marry me. She forces me to listen to myself. She will get it.”

Via her basis, Henson goals to attach others with culturally competent therapists like hers. “We now have a curated record of therapists from all around the nation who get our points, and it’s going to continue to grow as a result of therapists have additionally been searching for one thing like this. They don’t should be black, however they do have to know, to be delicate,” she says.

Artwork has imitated life this season on Empire, as Cookie has additionally sought remedy. “Cookie’s human and Cookie wants assist, too,” Henson says. “And persons are invested in characters, so I hope somebody will suppose, ‘If Cookie can go to remedy, possibly it’s OK for me to do it.’ Folks worry that going to remedy says that one thing is fallacious with them.

“Properly, sure, one thing is fallacious with you! You’re making an attempt to operate by trauma. Go and work on it with someone who might help you discover the change you’re searching for.”

What’s Subsequent

The previous few years have been a revolution in self-care for Henson. Along with engaged on psychological wellness along with her therapist, she’s remodeled her the way in which she eats after a scary bout with gastritis, an irritation of the abdomen lining. She’d been having nagging digestive signs for years, the results of years of gulping espresso very first thing within the morning.

“I drink espresso very hardly ever now, and my food regimen is 90% plant-based,” she says. “I do enable myself hen and seafood—seafood is my factor!”


With Empire in its ultimate season, Henson can also be diving into new ventures, together with the TPH hair line she’s been engaged on for greater than a decade, launched at Goal in January.

“I used to be having points conserving my scalp clear when my hair was beneath a weave. Everybody focuses on hair care, however not on scalp care,” she says. “How do you get product by braids or an extension to your scalp? So I created a tri-touch applicator that’s skinny sufficient to get by the weave and get to your scalp. And from there, I’ve branched off into 25 different merchandise that handle all kinds of hair.”

After the ultimate episode of Empire airs this month, what’s forward for her? “This present goes out with a bang,” she guarantees. “You’re going to be in your emotions, that’s the Empire manner. I’ve acquired some thrilling issues developing after that, however I can’t say something but. I’m trying ahead to life after Cookie, although. Whereas it’s been fantastic creating somebody so iconic, it’s bittersweet. She will get on my nerves. She’s lots! And I’m a personality actress, so I’m all the time searching for the subsequent character.”

However the basis stays her ardour. “I could not be capable of repair the psychological well being disaster amongst black folks on this lifetime, however I do know I helped get the ball rolling. I really feel like folks had been ready for this so that they might be let loose. All it takes is one. You then don’t really feel so alone.”


Discovering a Therapist Who Will get You

If Taraji P. Henson has impressed you to think about in search of psychological well being care, what do you have to know to get began? Medical psychologist Erlanger “Earl” Turner, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Pepperdine College within the Graduate Faculty of Training and Psychology and host of the psychological well being podcast “The Breakdown with Dr. Earl,” has ideas:

  • You don’t want a analysis to work with a therapist. “Numerous my sufferers don’t have a analysis like nervousness or despair. They arrive to work with me on every day stressors, relationship issues, and different life points.”

  • Remedy doesn’t should be a long-term dedication. “Many individuals assume that they should see a therapist each week, or that they’ll should commit for six months or a yr. Not essentially so. Remedy is about getting you to a spot the place you are feeling like you’ve the abilities to handle the stuff you’re coping with. There isn’t a agency timeline for that.”

  • It’s OK to ask about monetary choices. “Remedy might be costly. Some therapists have sliding scales based mostly on revenue, and people could not all the time be marketed on their web sites. Convey that up while you’re speaking to a therapist.”

  • Interview your therapist earlier than beginning therapy. “The small variety of black professionals in fields like psychology and psychiatry signifies that not everybody will be capable of discover a therapist who ‘appears to be like like them.’ Ask therapists how a lot coaching and expertise they’ve working with folks out of your background, and in your particular points.”


Taraji P. Henson, actor. Interview.
Nationwide Affiliation on Psychological Sickness. Psychological Well being Details in America. 
Pediatrics, November  2019. 
Boris Lawrence Henson Basis
Angela Neal-Barnett, PhD, Director, Program for Analysis on Nervousness Problems amongst African Individuals, Kent State College. Interview.
Erlanger Turner, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, Pepperdine College Graduate Faculty of Training and Psychology. 

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