Taraji P. Henson returned to her hometown of Washington D.C. this weekend for an important cause – to help increase mental health awareness and resources for Black youth. This cause is an important one to the Empire actress, who has been vocal about her own struggles with depression and anxiety.

During a testimony this morning in front of the newly formed Congressional Black Caucus Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, Henson spoke on behalf of her Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (named after her late father.) She describes the grief that struck when her son’s father died, and subsequently her own father. Finding a culturally competent counselor to help her son cope with the death of his two male role models, she says, was like “finding a unicorn.”

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 07: Actress and mental health advocate Taraji P. Henson, founder of The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, speaks during a hearing before the Congressional Black Caucus’ Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health June 7, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Henson spoke on a personal perspective “on managing mental health challenges, and the benefits of shining light on this topic in Black households.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Taraji’s family story is not uncommon. Beyond the sheer lack of high numbers of Black mental health professionals in the field, there’s also a longstanding stigma that discourages Black people from seeking help in the first place. “In the African-American community, we don’t deal with mental health issues,” Henson said in her testimony. “We don’t even talk about it. We’ve been taught to pray our problems away. We’ve been demonized for coming out saying we have issues. And we have trust issues.”

Henson became emotional when talking about the staggering rise in suicide among Black youth suicide. “I really don’t know how to fix this problem,” she says. “I just know that the suicide rate is rising. I just know the ages of children that are committing suicide are getting younger and younger. It just breaks my heart to know that five-year-old children are contemplating life and death.”

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 07: Actress and mental health advocate Taraji P. Henson, founder of The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, wipes tears during a hearing before the Congressional Black Caucus’ Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health June 7, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Henson spoke on a personal perspective “on managing mental health challenges, and the benefits of shining light on this topic in Black households.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“That one is tough for me,” she continues. “So, I’m here to appeal to you, because this is a national crisis. When I hear of kids going in bathrooms cutting themselves — you’re supposed to feel safe at school. I’m here using my celebrity, using my voice to put a face to this, because I also suffer from depression and anxiety, and if you’re a human living in today’s world, I don’t know how you’re not suffering in any way.”

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman thanked Henson for using her platform to tackle this issue. “We can do the legislative piece,” Coleman said. “We can do the appropriations piece. But it is a voice like yours that helps to elevate the discussion so that the people will react to it.”

Henson’s Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation will host its first ever “Can We Talk?” mental health summit this weekend in the nation’s capitol. The event will kick off with a benefit dinner honoring those who have helped shape young Black lives through art, justice and community service. The BHLF fundraiser has set a goal to raise $500,000 to provide free therapy sessions to those who are willing to try it for the first time.

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