Taraji P. Henson appeared during the Congressional Black Caucus Taskforce forum on suicide among black youth, and mental health on Friday.
In her opening remarks, Henson stated that she came to Capital Hill out of “necessity.” She went on to open up about the trauma experienced from losing her father, Boris Lawrence Henson, in 2006, and the father of her son, who was murdered in her hometown of Washington D.C., two years earlier.
“We, in the African-American community, we don't deal with mental health issues. We don't even talk about it. We've been taught to pray our problems away,” said Henson. “We’ve been demonized for coming out and saying we have [mental health] issues and trust issues. I need the person sitting opposite from me, when I go seek [mental] help, to be culturally competent. If you’re not culturally competent how can I trust you with my deepest secrets and my vulnerability?”
Henson also shared a story of working as a substitute teacher for what she thought was a class of special needs students at a school in Los Angeles. “When I got there I was in a room full of black young males labeled ‘special ed.’ None of them were [disabled]. As I started talking to the young men I found out that they were going home to no parents.”
“That sat with me and it bothers me because I’m raising a young black man,” Henson added.
Henson continued to speak out about her own struggles with anxiety and depression, and stated that she feels like she has really found her purpose. Last year she named her organization the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to honor her father, a Vietnam veteran who suffered from both PTSD and manic depression. The Oscar-nominated actress launched the foundation to eradicate the stigma behind mental illness.
Following a difficult time in her life, Henson says, finding a therapist she could trust was hard. She says “It was like looking for a purple unicorn with a 24-carat-gold-horn.” She now talks to her therapist twice a week. If she's in town she visits in person, if she’s out of town she will Skype or Facetime.
Following her Congressional testimony, Henson went live on Instagram for a discussion on mental health awareness, trauma, grieving, depression, and anxiety within the black community. “This conversation is an inclusive one for all,” she explained. “When we learn from each other that’s when we can create real change. It’s time to stop hurting and start healing.”
See her testimony on Capitol Hill below: