Taraji P. Henson Wants To Fight The Stigma of Mental Illness Among POC

Empire star, Taraji P

Photo: Wikimedia/NASA-Bill Ingalls

Photo: Wikimedia/NASA-Bill Ingalls

Empire star, Taraji P. Henson has been open before about her own mental health. The 48-year-old actress and single mom of 24-year-old son, Marcell, recently got real transparent about some of the mental health struggles she’s experienced in her new memoir, Around the Way Girl, and why it’s so important people of color talk about this. 

“All my life I’ve been told that talking about my feelings is a sign of weakness. I’m a single mother. I don’t want people to think I’m invincible or that I’m so strong and can do it all. I can’t,” she told OprahMag.com. “I have problems and issues just like everyone else. By me saying that, I’m starting to see more people come forward. That’s the first thing I wanted to do is just break the ice and have an open dialogue.”

Henson who struggles with mental health herself, mentions in her book her hard upbringing growing up with a father who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and battled addiction after fighting in the Vietnam War. Her son also has experienced mental health struggles since his father was murdered. As a result, Henson started the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in honor of her father who has since passed.

Henson’s mission behind the organization is not only to raise awareness and get people openly talking about mental illness but fighting the stigma associated with mental illness specifically in Black and brown communities.

According to the Health and Human Services office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Common mental health disorders  among Black Americans include everything from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Major depression, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and suicide. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, common disorders among Latino Americans range from major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, archaism and suicide as well. In fact, Latinas still have the highest suicide rate in America largely due to the stigma that still surrounds mental illness in our community. Reports show that only 20% of Latinos with symptoms of a psychological disorder actually seek help or treatment.

If we want to see brown and black communities fight mental illness, we need to first remove these stigmas that are consistently holding us back.

“When you’re talking about mental illness, you can’t pray the flu away or for a broken leg to be healed. I’m not saying prayer doesn’t work. The only way there’s going to be change is if we acknowledge it exists,” Henson tells OprahMag.com. “Once more people get comfortable talking about it, we have to get these people to places where they can talk. The resources are there, it’s just about compiling them all.”

Jada Pinkett Smith recently opened up about how she dealt with her daughter Willow Smith’s  confession of harming herself. Back in May, Willow shared for the first time publicly during an episode of Red Table Talk that she started cutting herself at age 9, shortly after the success of her hit song “Whip My Hair.” It was not only the first time the world learned about it, but it was also Jada’s first time hearing about her daughter’s self-harming too.

“I wanted to make sure she was okay,” Jada told The Momspodcast host on Tuesday. “We went through what happened and the moment I realized as a mother you also have to give your children space to deal with their own shadow.”

We’ve come a long way when it comes to the mental health discussion and how it impacts communities of color—women of color especially. But we need to continue to have these conversations so young brown and black women feel safe enough to speak up, to be transparent about their struggles and to ultimately get the help, support, and treatment they need to live their happiest and healthiest lives. 

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