Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson has a long list of accomplishments on and off screen, but she’s also helping to create a space for focus on mental health, particularly for Black women.
On Thursday (October 8), the 50-year-old ‘Empire” star headlined Marie Claire’s Power On summit which was held virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. From her home, Henson opened up about her own experiences dealing with depression and anxiety.
When asked about the stigmas Black women face around mental health, Henson, among other things, discussed the problematic side of terms that are intended to uplift Black women, including “strong Black woman” and “Black girl magic.”
"I understand the notion behind or the meaning behind 'strong Black woman' or 'Black girl magic,' I get it—it's to lift us up. But you have to be careful with that term, because what it does is it dehumanizes our pain," she explained, according to Marie Claire.
"You know, we're not fairies. I can't rebound from pain, or the loss of my son to the law, and nothing's being done about it. I have to be quiet and forgive and be nice and, you know, that's not fair to me. I am human and I hurt.”
Henson continued: “And I think those terms like that are the reason why Black women die in the emergency room or giving birth, because we are known to be strong. 'Well, she can deal with that pain.' You know, you don't understand how other people take that term, and maybe take it out of context. Or maybe go, 'Oh, they really are strong. They don't need as much, you know, help.' You know, so you have to be careful with terms like that. And so I'm speaking out about it. That's what I'm doing."
Taraji also opened up about her role in fighting against the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community.
"I could sit up here all day long, and say, 'I got a therapist, and it works for me,' but you know, people, especially in the Black community, we have trust issues when it comes to the medical industry,” she said.
“And especially when it comes to therapy, because for us, we have been told to stay strong. [We have been told] 'If you suffer from mental illness, that's a weakness,' so that's not something we embrace in our community.”
She added, “So for me, it was very important to put a face to it. And I feel like our community really trusts me. As an artist, they trust me in my work, you know, I don't sell a lot of things. So I think there's a certain amount of trust when it comes to me in the community, and I felt like me sharing my story and my struggles, putting a face to it would help free other people to talk about it and make people feel like 'wow, I'm not alone.'"
Henson is the founder of Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in honor of her father, who was a Vietnam veteran that faced mental health issues following his return from the war.