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How Taraji P. Henson Is Helping Others Achieve Mental Wealth

boris lawrence henson-foundation-mental health-people of color-women
boris lawrence henson-foundation-mental health-people of color-women
Taraji P. Henson and Tracie Jade Jenkins | Photo by Lyndon French

We spoke with actress Taraji P. Henson and Tracie Jade Jenkins (executive director of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation) about the challenges young people, women, and people color face in accessing quality mental health care, and the resources available to ensure these communities can improve and maintain their mental health.

Taraji P. Henson

Founder, Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation

What inspired you to become a mental health advocate?

My advocacy originated from necessity, love, and to honor my dad. The resources were so minimal or nonexistent for Black people, the stigma is so high in our community, and really watching him experience PTSD, something that is its own epidemic, after returning from the Vietnam War required me to do something. It was overwhelming, but also the start of my healing, growth, appreciation, and where I developed the mindset that this is mental wealth.

It is a daily practice of mine and something I have been so proud to share and engage with through my son, too. His needs, my needs, yours, and everyone else’s differ, and I learned to recognize that through creating dialogue, practicing, and defying stigmas to be the best person he can be. This is one of the many reasons why we need to keep doing this work, and how we can honor those who didn’t have the same access or have not made it to the point where they feel comfortable enough yet to engage in this space. But I’ll keep trying to help anyone I can!


Why is it important to talk about women’s mental health?

Women do everything. And I mean everything. Talking about mental health is an extension of community, and so much of that is required to exist successfully. The more we speak, the more we normalize. That is the key, and you cannot raise awareness in silence. It helps us to know what to look out for on behalf of ourselves, as well as those around us. That’s the only way any of us can truly be successful. 

What unique mental health challenges do women in communities of color face?

I speak for myself, from my personal experiences, and those around me who have shared their own journeys, and a common expectation is that we continue on as normal and don’t speak about this outside of the house. That’s very traditional to keep business amongst your circle, but when it extends beyond and in spaces like mental health, our challenges only continue to multiply.

Access to resources, therapists (especially in-network ones if you are fortunate to have health insurance), ability to make appointments without missing work, these are all relatively common things that often magnify in our community. History has also shown that in the medical and mental health spaces, Black people and Black women are often not taken seriously, too.

Part of why we created my “Can We Talk?” symposium and have a list of various resources available through my foundation’s website is because many women don’t even know where to start, or it feels very daunting, especially in the middle of whatever you may be experiencing.

Tracie Jade Jenkins

Executive Director, Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation

What resources do you recommend for young people struggling with mental health challenges?

Start by talking with your school guidance counselor or school social worker. They are here to help, and often have multiple resources they can connect a young person with, without needing parents’ consent if they are over 14 (in most states).

Here are some additional options if you are in need of mental health care:

  • Share how you are feeling with your parents or an adult loved one who can help you get the support you need.
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Teen and Young Adult Helpline: A free nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals, and support to teens and young adults. Text Friend to 62640 to immediately connect with someone. Or call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
  • 988: Contact 988 immediately when in crisis to talk with a live person who can provide immediate support and connect you with local crisis services.
  • Teen-friendly social media apps can be very helpful for young people who are already engaged with social media and find solace in their smartphones and the digital world. Most of these apps are free for teens and young adults, and can be incredibly beneficial. These are digital tools designed to support individuals in managing and improving their emotional well-being, and offer a range of features from self-help resources and mood tracking to meditation and access to licensed clinicians. Some examples: Mindshift, Calm Harm, What’s up?, HappiMe, and Sanvello Woebot

Why is culturally relevant therapy an important part of mental health access?

Healing is cultural, and culture is healing! Culture is one of the most profound influences in our lives and impacts how we communicate, engage with the world around us, and how we think and feel about our own health, seeking treatment, and the recovery process.

Culturally relevant therapies then are a critical aspect of mental health access, because it ensures clients are accessing care that will be sensitive to their unique experiences, meaningful, and aligned with their values and beliefs. All of which lead to more positive treatment outcomes. In essence, culturally relevant therapies promote a deeper therapeutic relationship, encourage openness and authenticity, and tailor treatment to individual cultural contexts.

And it’s important to note that culturally relevant therapy is important for ALL clients, not just clients of color.

Culturally relevant therapies ensure that mental health professionals understand their clients’ unique and intersectional cultural backgrounds and identities (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender identity, socioeconomic status, sexuality). This understanding fosters trust and allows clients to be seen and heard during the therapeutic process.

When clients share the same cultural background as their therapist, they often feel more comfortable discussing sensitive topics and a greater openness overall, which can reduce the likelihood of misdiagnoses and enhance the likelihood of the clients’ cultural values and beliefs being integrated into the therapeutic approaches.

What are some recent initiatives of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation?

The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation has recently launched several impactful initiatives aimed at enhancing mental health and wellness in communities. Among these initiatives are:

  • SheCare Wellness Pods: In partnership with Kate Spade New York, we have introduced SheCare Wellness Pods to provide safe, supportive spaces for women on HBCU campuses to focus on their mental health and well-being. We currently have two pods at Alabama State and Hampton Universities, with two more pods coming later this year.
  • 2024 Can We Talk? Symposium: This symposium serves as a platform to discuss critical mental health issues, share resources, and foster a community of support and understanding.
  • BoBo’s Joy Joint Fundraiser: A recent party with a purpose fundraiser dedicated to supporting our mental health programs and services, helping to raise essential funds to continue our mission.
  • Joy Zones Initiative: Focused on District 8 in Prince George’s County, Maryland, this initiative aims to bring comprehensive mental health services and resources directly to the community, ensuring accessible and equitable care.

Through these initiatives, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation continues to advance its mission of breaking the silence around mental health issues in the African American community and providing much-needed support and resources.

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