Taraji P. Henson on her mental health crisis: I wasn’t ‘well’
Taraji P. Henson is “in a good place.”
But she wasn’t always like that.
Henson, 52, is no stranger to therapy and her resume as a mental health advocate proves it. In 2018, she established the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named after her father, who struggled with PTSD and bipolar disorder, to support services for those in need. The next year, she addressed Congress and shed tears as she spoke about mental health issues impacting the black community. In 2020, she told Entertainment Tonight she had thoughts of suicide during the pandemic but “got a lot better” after speaking out about it.
But while speaking out loud about mental health awareness, the actress was quietly building a wall that rocked her self-described “happy, bubbly” personality.
“I was not feeling well. Nothing could make me happy: jobs, things, stuff. I developed a shopping habit and nothing was fulfilling.” Henson says. “I was badly wounded. Every little thing put me off and I didn’t like who I was becoming.”
Taraji P. Henson “didn’t want to go back” to the US after healing
Henson recalls being “out of control” during the pandemic. She had lost friends to suicide and felt mentally overwhelmed.
Her happiness returned after traveling solo to Bali for a month, an experience Henson says made her happier than she had been in “a long, long time”.
“It was the best experience I’ve ever had in my life and I really didn’t want to go back,” she says.
She says her “Eat Pray Love” journey transformed her into a “post-Bali Taraji” and led her to work with Kate Spade, a fashion label that lost its co-founder to suicide in 2018. They’ve teamed up to build oases on HBCU campuses that offer free virtual and in-person therapy sessions, as well as self-regulatory practices like music, art and dance therapy, for female students who may not have the resources to reset their minds on another continent calibrate.
Mental illness among college-age adults is high. Henson wanted to do something.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 had the “highest prevalence” of mental illness among other age groups, based on data collected as part of the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey also showed that the same age group had the lowest percentage of those receiving mental health treatment.
Mental illness in black communities is consistent with rates in the general population, but differences exist “in relation to mental health services,” according to the American Psychiatric Association.
The campus wellness structures will act as sanctuaries for a demographic that is at the center of the ongoing mental health conversations in the country. The first wellness pod is built on the Alabama State University campus.
“I got pregnant while I was studying, other girls too. Many of them dropped out because they didn’t have the help,” says Henson, who studied at Howard University. “It does something to you… I couldn’t help it then, but I can do something about it now.”
Henson brings a change to therapy after struggling to find help
Henson also hopes therapy on the HBCU campus can diversify the field after struggling to find a therapist early in her healing journey.
“It’s really hard to find someone who looks like us that I can talk to and feel comfortable with,” says Henson. “Because we don’t talk about it at home. There aren’t enough therapists out there because our kids don’t go into that space because we talk about it.”
Experts say finding the right therapist can be difficult, but it’s beneficial for your mental health.
“Therapy isn’t always convenient, but it should always be safe,” Texas Premarital Counseling’s Lauren Ross previously told USA TODAY. “If you feel like you can’t be honest with your therapist, they probably won’t be of much help to you.”