By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]
In the Black community, mental health is often treated as the elephant in the room that no one really wants to talk about.
Between “praying the pain away,” worrying about “airing dirty laundry,” and thinking therapy is for “privileged people,” many in communities of color keep mental and emotional health challenges inside, as opposed to seeking help for their illnesses. Not getting professional help for mental health issues can lead to further physical health issues including high blood pressure, muscle pain, addiction and death.
For these reasons actress and advocate Taraji P. Henson, hopes to break the stigma and silence around mental health with her organization, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, and her conference, “Can We Talk?,” which took place June 7-9 in her hometown, Washington, D.C.
In an exclusive AFRO interview, Henson took some time out from the conference to share the importance of her foundation, and why Black people need to talk about mental health.
“Because it’s taboo in many ways. We don’t really talk about it,” Henson told the AFRO.
The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation is named after the actress’ father, who was instrumental in influencing her to go after her artistic endeavors.
“My dad was very paramount about me becoming an actress. He sewed great seeds into me. He told me I was going to be one of the greatest actresses alive when I was little. He always spoke great things into me, so I had no choice but to dream big because those are the seeds he planted,” she said.
Notwithstanding her personal career, the D.M.V. native also shared that she named the foundation in honor of her father, after realizing, once he passed, the importance he had in her life by actually talking about mental health.
“He was an open book- open road map to his life… He told his truth, he walked in his truth no matter what, and that’s a bold place to live. A lot of us are really afraid to live in our truth. And that’s what he taught me,” she said. “He was very open and honest about his mental issues. You never go to war and come back the same. So, I just felt like this was a way to honor his legacy and the things he instilled in me,” the actress and mental health advocate added.
Henson noted the domino effect that has taken place in the Black community by not talking about mental health.
“That’s why there’s a shortage of African Americans in the field of mental health, because we don’t talk about it at home. Our children don’t even know, this is a field they can even flourish in. They’ll say, ‘I want to be a doctor, I want to be a dentist,’ no one ever says, ‘I want to be a psychiatrist, I want to be psychologist, I want to be a therapist, a mental health therapist,’” she told the AFRO. “I think once we have open dialogue about it, people will be more comfortable about being vulnerable.”
In opening up about mental health, Henson feels, true change can happen.
“We’ve always been taught to keep our problems close to us, but that’s not how you change lives. You change lives by telling your story, telling your truth, however ugly it may be. No one wants to hear how easy you had it, you can’t change a life like that,” Henson told the AFRO.
For those interested in donating to the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, the actress has specific instructions.
“If you feel like you want to help in any way- any donation is a good donation- you can text, ‘Can We Talk’ to 41444.”