Taraji P Henson on mental health: We’ve been taught to pray our problems away

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Taraji P. Henson is being honored for her work as a mental health advocate, particularly in the Black community. Taraji, who has been open about her mental health struggles, created The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in honor of her father, who suffered from PTSD after serving in Vietnam.

Taraji received an award from the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, which funds “depression research. Taraji’s videotaped acceptance speech was exclusively debuted by People. She said that mental health is not talked about in the Black community and that she hopes to normalize how we talk about mental health. Below are a few excerpts:

“We’ve been taught that we should pray our problems away,” she says. “We’ve been taught to hold our problems close to the vest out of fear of being labeled weak or inadequate.”

Henson, who spoke about her personal journey with PTSD and depression when she was named one of PEOPLE’s Women Changing the World in 2019, is being honored for the campaign she started in April to help the Black community access free, virtual therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henson, 50, launched the campaign through The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which she named in honor of her father, who suffered from mental health issues after his tour of duty in the Vietnam War.

Finding the right therapist can be challenging for those in the Black community, a professional who “we can trust with our deepest vulnerabilities” and who also understands “the stresses of simply being Black in America,” Henson says.

This includes “racism, mass incarceration, police brutality and inequality in health care and persistent exclusion from economic opportunities,” she says.

Her goal, she says, is to “normalize how we talk about mental health.”

[From People]

I am so excited that the conversation around mental health, particularly in the Black community, continues to expand. It’s great to see high profile Back celebrities like Taraji, Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Gabrielle Union lending their voices to the cause. I am definitely looking forward to Taraji’s Facebook Watch program that will focus on mental health.

As someone who suffers from PTSD, chronic depression and anxiety, I was told to pray about it and for years that is what I did. News flash, I didn’t get any better. It wasn’t until I went to a therapist in college that I understood what was going on. I also have family members affected by PTSD, bi-polar and paranoia, so I have seen how not getting the proper help can affect a family for generations.

I am here for more high-profile Black celebrities opening up about their mental health journey and encouraging Black people to seek therapy. As Taraji mentions in her speech, I do hope to see more information that helps Black people understand how to pick out a good therapist. That too is very important. As for my girl Taraji, this honor is well deserved. I know she will continue to advocate for good mental health fitness, especially in a community where talking about mental health is taboo.

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11 Responses to “Taraji P Henson on mental health: We’ve been taught to pray our problems away”

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  1. Esmom says:

    Amen, no pun intended. I come from a family with undiagnosed mental illness and I finally got help in my 30s, after having begged my mom in my teens to see someone for crippling anxiety and growing depression. She had been taught that seeing a psychiatrist could get you locked up in an institution so I never did see someone then.

    I tell people who are hesitant to see a psychiatric provider that your brain is another organ, that you probably wouldn’t skip the doctor if you had some kind of chronic knee pain or skip the insulin if you had diabetes. We need to regard mental health the same way. (Although don’t get me started on healthcare in general in the U.S., sigh.)

  2. SJ Knows says:

    Good for her for her work and starting a foundation to help.
    I know several who went to Vietnam as 18, 19 y/o, and they came back w/undiagnosed PTSD.

  3. FrenchyLarue says:

    Best brows in the biz.
    I know, shallow remark-but I AM shallow.

  4. Mignionette says:

    This is so the black community. Growing up I actually heard aunties describing mental struggles and illness as being possessed by the devil and white people’s problems. Yet the statistics paint a very different picture bc black people will often face more bleak challenges in their life due to health, employment, and other social inequalities. As a black woman you learn to navigate in a box, below your abilities and subject to a glass ceiling. Things that would impact any functional human being. Having faith and purpose is a good thing, but having an outlet for that mental struggle is the definition of power and using that faith to create change.

  5. BearcatLawyer says:

    I got a nasty case of chronic PTSD from a car accident shortly after 9/11. After months of suffering, I finally tried EMDR therapy. It was truly a miracle for me, and within a few weeks I was almost back to normal. After about two months, I no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. While it does not work for everyone, it has been proven to help many service members suffering from PTSD due to combat situations. PTSD is a horrible condition that I would not wish on my worst enemy. I just wish more people had access to competent EMDR therapists so they do not have to live in that hell unnecessarily.

    • Jaded says:

      My cousin had a sudden relapse of panic attacks she’d had after a disastrous first marriage to a man who, no sooner than the honeymoon was over, started physically and emotionally abusing her. She had to call her dad in the middle of the night to come and get her she was so afraid. Thirty years later she was threatened by a nutbar employee (she was VP of HR) that she had to fire. He said he was going to track her down and kill her, and next thing you know she’s in full blown PTSD mode. She did EMDR therapy and swears by it so I’m so glad it worked for you too.

  6. Cg2495 says:

    I suffer from general anxiety that came about my health issues and struggle with my weight gain due to all the meds I have been taking the past year.
    Mental health issues is crippling , isolating and debilitating. Some days are truly hard but I am doing weekly therapy and taking my meds to help me cope.

  7. LouLou says:

    Therapy for Black Girls is a directory/site providing exactly what is sounds like. Counseling programs are getting better at educating counselors in training about white privilege and the importance of acknowledging/supporting the identities and lived experience of clients within systemic racism (in the United States). However, if you prefer a counselor who potentially already “gets it,” you might find this site useful.

    • lucy2 says:

      That’s awesome, thanks for sharing it. Hopefully this and program’s like Taraji’s expand the outreach and make more people feel it’s ok to ask for help.

  8. Jezebel's Lacefront says:

    I didn’t receive my diagnosis until my thirties after years of my family telling me to pray my issues away. Imagine the help I would have received if mental health was considered as important as my physical health.

    If you need help, get it, regardless of who tries to invalidate your feelings.

  9. Jaded says:

    My mom and sister suffered from combined Borderline/Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Growing up in my household was like picking my way through a field of land mines. It ended up killing my sister at age 41 through a combination of alcoholism and eating disorders. I know if she’d had therapy she would still be alive but even though you can lead a horse to water you can’t make it drink and she steadfastly refused to believe there was anything wrong with her. Interestingly enough, Mr. Jaded’s ex-wife was recently diagnosed with BPD, which I called 5 years ago after they divorced and we got together. For 4 years she harassed us incessantly – emailing, calling, sending gifts, writing 10 page rambling diatribes about how she adored him/hated him, how he abandoned her (she left him), threatened suicide, and how he mistreated his daughter and granddaughter. Scary stuff. So it was with relief that the harassment finally ended and it turned out she was in DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) which seems to have worked. Again, she should have been in therapy decades ago but refused to admit anything was wrong with her and he just enabled her behaviour.

    You cannot pray these kinds of problems away and I so appreciate Taraji’s work on mental health issues, especially in the Black community where admitting a mental health problem is seen as a sign of weakness rather than an actual illness requiring treatment.