As a child, Taraji P. Henson felt helpless watching her father, a Vietnam veteran, struggle with mental health issues. Eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he had war-themed nightmares, would regularly self-medicate with excessive alcohol consumption, and even attempted suicide. Today, she is honoring her father’s memory and working to improve life for her community. The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundationis a nonprofit that seeks to support African Americans by “bringing mental health support to urban schools, reducing the recidivism rate in prisons, and increasing the number of African American therapists.”
In addition to her father’s story, Henson and her son also faced major trauma when her son’s father was murdered in 2003. Struggling with that senseless loss and the subsequent death of her own father led Henson to see with startling clarity the specific challenges African Americans face when it comes to mental health. “We experience trauma on a daily basis, in the media, in our neighborhoods, schools, the prison system, or simply walking down the street, you name it,” Henson told Healthline. In addition to the inordinate amount of trauma African Americans face, there is also a big stigma problem compounded by the fact that finding a black therapist can be extremely difficult.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, only 1 in 3 of African Americans who need care for mental health actually receive it. Henson hopes to help change that. Joining Henson in the endeavor is her childhood best friend, Tracie Jade Jenkins, who serves as the foundation’s Executive Director.
Henson’s celebrity status is an opportunity not only to raise awareness but also to raise money. From posh fundraisers for A-list names to the chance for a fan to join her on the red carpet for a movie premiere, Henson is using her star power to further the cause and honor her father’s memory. She even spent a day on Capitol Hillthis summer, urging members of the Black Caucus to join her in talking about mental health and the African American community.
The award-winning actress has had a successful career that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down but she believes that ultimately it is the foundation and its mission of breaking the silence and breaking the cycle that is her true purposein life. You can learn more about the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation here.
Photo Credits: Taraji P. Henson at 2010 Independent Spirit Awards.jpg” by Tomdog is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0