Taraji P. Henson Wants Us To Change How We Talk About Mental Health

Can we talk for a minute? And no, I’m not trying to know your name. I want to talk about mental health in the black community.

Brothas, how y’all feeling? Sisters, y’all alright? In the black community discussing mental health is a privilege. We have a tendency to not call a thing a thing. We sweep things under the rug and tend to use prayer as a tool to fix all our issues. Newsflash: the Bible says faith without work is dead, so prayer alone isn’t going to cure mental health issues in the black community. We’ve got to come to a point where we realize that’s it’s ok to have Jesus and a therapist.

Our “keep it in house” mentality is damaging our community and it’s time we take private conversations public. Insert the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation’s Can We Talk Mental Health Conference, spearheaded by Taraji P. Henson.

Henson’s work was birthed out of the desire to create culturally competent counselors to help our people deal with our mental health. “Finding a culturally competent counselor is like finding a unicorn,” says Henson. As someone who is currently shopping around for a consistent therapist, I can 110 percent agree with her assessment. When you’ve made the decision to seek help in the form of therapy, you want someone who understands exactly what you’re going through and it’s a huge bonus when they actually look like you as well.

Therapy can be used to unpack a lot of trauma that we’ve had to deal with. But it can be hard when you’re always expected to be strong and carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Black women, the backbone of our society, and without whom we’d truly be lost, are not given the spaces to be vulnerable. Who checks on the strong when they feel weak?

“First of all, it is highly impossible for any human to always be strong,” says Henson. “I was always apprehensive of the term ‘strong black woman’ because it dehumanizes us and makes it seem like we don’t hurt,” continued Henson. While most use it as a term of endearment, the term itself makes it seem like black women don’t need help. We all suffer from this type of mentality because if black women don’t take care of themselves and their mental health, then how are they going to take care of their families?

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“We’re dealing with so much trauma as a community,” she continued, with passion on her breath and hope in her eyes. “The effects of slavery are still ever-present and daunting. Henson’s hope is that the black community comes to a place where they realize that it’s ok to seek help and it’s ok to not be ok. We live in a society where it’s impossible to be ok all the time.”

In short: “We’ve got to keep going,” says Henson. “We have to normalize the conversations we have around mental illness because it’s a very real part of our community.”

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