The global pandemic and 2020 has been taking a huge toll on humanity, and many just can’t seem to handle living through it. Actress Taraji P. Henson’s time on the Fox television show Empire may be over now that the show has been canceled, but her focus has shifted towards building one of her own. Noticing the ever-increasing issues of mental health in the world which for some has been intensified during crisis, Henson is stepping forward to lead a charge to erase the negative stigmas surrounding mental health and treatment.
For years the Hustle & Flow actress has not shied away from her personal struggles, as well as her advocacy on the issues surrounding them. August of 2018 saw the award-winning actress launching her nonprofit organization, The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF), named after her father.
“Mental health issues are huge in communities of color,” said Henson to Healthline. “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 wants to allow for more therapists of color to be utilized so that perhaps more African Americans would be more comfortable in seeing one if needed.
The actress herself shares the importance of therapy in her life. “I make it a point to see my therapist at least twice a month,” Henson admits. “When I feel like things in my life are getting too heavy, I call her for an immediate appointment. Talking to a professional is very healthy.”
Last December, Henson shared that her bouts with depression and anxiety crippled her to the point where she could no longer feel like herself. “There would be days when my brain wouldn’t stop racing with the worst scenarios in the world, which would heighten my anxiety,” she admitted to Self magazine. “There was no shame when I started to recognize it. It was like, ‘I have to get some help,’ because I’m the life of the party and when I go dark, I go dark. I don’t want to leave the house.”
Her behind the scenes bout with depression and anxiety would only intensify over time, but she continued to push through the private struggles. A few months ago, the “Hidden Figures” actress was the latest recipient of the “Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion” by the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation for her work to end the stigma around mental illness.
President of the group Jay Ruderman had this to say about Henson’s honor. “When role models and influencers like Taraji are so vocal about their own experiences […] it has the potential to inspire millions of people to accept their own issues and find healthy ways to address them.”
He added, “But it hasn’t just been words with Taraji. She took action.” Speaking on the bestowed honor, Henson had a message for all those dealing with the very same issues. “It’s OK to not be OK,” said Taraji to The Associated Press via email. “Tell someone. Your vulnerability is actually your strength.”
Now she has expanded her efforts along with her best friend and non-profit leader Tracie Jade by way of a new biweekly Facebook Watch series, “Peace of Mind with Taraji”.
On one of the show’s episodes, Henson revealed that during the crisis, her thoughts started to get the best of her and she almost allowed it to get the best of her. This “dark moment” that she faced led to her wanting to take her own life.
“During this pandemic, it’s been hard on all of us, and I had a moment. I had a dark moment. I was in a dark place. For a couple of days, I couldn’t get out of the bed, I didn’t care. That’s not me. Then, I started having thoughts about ending it. It happened two nights in a row,” Henson said.
The actress shares that she even bought a firearm during the time, and when thoughts of her own son crossed her mind, she figured that he would just simply get over it. ”I just didn’t care. I felt myself withdrawing. People were calling me. I wasn’t responding. I didn’t care. Finally, I’m talking to one of my girlfriends and I knew I was smart enough to say ‘I have to say it,’ Henson said.
Her decision to open up to her close friend helped to save her life. “I was like, I don’t want them to think I’m crazy,” she said. “I don’t want them to, you know, obsess over me or think they gotta come and sit on me. So one day I just blurted it out, to my girlfriend. She called me in the morning and I was like, ‘You know I thought about k*lling myself last night,'” she said, taking a big breath and then adding, “‘Oh my God, I feel so much better. I’m not gonna do it now.'”
Henson, who also recently opened up about the end of her engagement to former fiancee’ Kelvin Hayden, added that our thoughts can propel us to think to act on things we shouldn’t. “For me, I’m no professional, but I felt like, if I don’t say it, it becomes a plan,” she expressed. “And what scared me, is that I did it two nights in a row. And the thoughts kept coming. Now I started think about how. At first, it was like, I don’t want to be here. And then I started thinking about going and getting the gun. And that’s why when I woke up the next morning, and I blurted it out. Because I felt like after a while it was going to take over me and it was going to become a plan because that’s how strong my brain is.”
Sincere prayers to the actress and all those that are struggling with the same or similar thoughts. Check out the clip from Taraji P. Henson’s mental health show below.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.