Taraji P. Henson Gives Powerful Testimony on Mental Health Before Congress

Taraji P. Henson just made a strong move in her crusade for better mental healthcare. The actress advocated for health care education improvement in testimony Friday before the Congressional Black Caucus Emergency Task Force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health.

“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. We’ve been demonized for coming out for saying that we have issues,” Taraji said, describing how she noticed through research that it was difficult to find easily accessible psychiatric help in her community.

Taraji also noted that her hope is to make it possible to find people to talk to who are culturally competent, and that out of "necessity" she started her foundation, The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, that works to help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the black community.

She also detailed her experience as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, where she was faced with kids who were expected to attend school while dealing with traumatic situations. Taraji urged implementation of education in schools on the subjects of mental health and mental illness, comparing the importance to sexual and physical education. “The more we talk about, the more people will feel like they can talk about it.”

"It breaks my heart to know that 5-year-old children are contemplating life and death. I just…” Taraji said through tears. I'm sorry. That one is tough for me, so I'm here to appeal to you, because this is a national crisis. When I hear of kids going into bathrooms, cutting themselves... you're supposed to feel safe in school. I'm here using my celebrity, using my voice, to put a face to this, because I also suffer from depression and anxiety.”

On Friday evening in Washington, Taraji hosted an inaugural “Can We Talk” benefit for her foundation. According to the event’s website, the benefit and two-day conference provide an “opportunity to exchange ideas around normalizing the conversation of mental illness in the African-American community.”

In April, Taraji outlined her mission at Variety’s Power of Women NY event, declaring, “Our vision is to eradicate the stigma around mental health in the black community by breaking the silence and breaking a cycle of shame.”

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