The Mental Health Spotlight Series is provided to showcase well-known public figures and their experiences dealing with mental health. It also serves as a gentle reminder that #youarenotalone.
Taraji P. Henson, Actress (1970 – Present)
Taraji Penda Henson was born September 11, 1970 to Bernice and Boris Lawrence Henson. Taraji and her younger siblings grew up in the Southeast section of Washington, D.C., in an apartment she has described as “one step up from the projects.” Tenacity came easily for Henson, as she watched her mother work her way up from the basement to a management position in a popular department store, while her father provided as a metalworker. Though their union dissolved, a foundation of strength and determination was instilled in their oldest daughter; blatantly evident in her current life.
The Early Years
Graduating from Oxon Hill High School in 1988, Henson pursued a degree in electrical engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She would eventually transfer to Howard University, with her sights set on drama. Henson worked a morning shift as a secretary at The Pentagon and honed her entertainment skills by singing and dancing as a waitress on a dinner-cruise ship.
Landing her first professional acting gig on Smart Guy, Henson would receive her big break in the 2001 film Baby Boy. That performance would lead her toward the role of Shug in Hustle and Flow and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). An undeniable force to be reckoned with, Henson has graced our screens on television and in film, and in 2015, earned a Golden Globe award for her role as Cookie Lyon on the hit series Empire. She was also nominated for Best Actress in her role as Katherine Johnson in the critically acclaimed Hidden Figures (2016). Henson to date, has more than 67+ acting credits, 7 Producer credits, and 1 Directing credit.
Mental Health Challenges
Henson has been very open about her mental health struggles and is striving to help end the stigma associated with mental illness. Diagnosed with anxiety and depression, she often experienced feelings of helplessness, heart palpitations, and mood swings—prompting her to seek necessary help two years ago. She is regularly seeing a therapist, practicing meditation, and praying in an effort to manage her wellness.
In the African-American community, there is an overwhelming sense of shame and stigma regarding mental health; it’s another taboo that “we just don’t talk about.” Wanting to change the dialogue regarding this crisis, Henson and Tracie Jenkins created the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation — after her father, to help eradicate the stigma and reduce the childhood suicide epidemic in the U.S. The foundation collaborates with schools to provide safe spaces for children to have an outlet for their emotions, provides culturally competent therapists, and offers scholarships for people of color interested in pursuing psychology and other mental health related fields.
If you have questions or concerns regarding your mental health or that of a loved one, please contact the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) HelpLine at 1 (800) 950-NAMI. Hours of availability are Monday through Friday, 10 am to 6 pm ET or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NAMI is a free, nationwide peer-support service that provides information, referrals for care, and support to people living with mental health conditions, their family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public. HelpLine staff and volunteers are experienced, well-trained and able to provide guidance.
Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.