Taraji P. Henson Honored for Advocacy: 'We Don't Talk About Mental Health in the Black Community'
Taraji P. Henson and Jane Pauley are given awards at the virtual 14th Annual HOPE Luncheon to benefit the Hope for Depression Research Foundation
On Wednesday, Taraji P. Henson and Jane Pauley will be honored for their work as mental health advocates at the Virtual 14th Annual HOPE Luncheon Seminar to benefit the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to cutting-edge depression research.
Past winners include LeAnn Rimes, Anderson Cooper, Lorraine Bracco and Brooke Shields.
In Henson’s videotaped acceptance speech for the Community Ambassador of Hope Award, which PEOPLE is exclusively debuting, Henson says “We don’t talk about mental health in the Black community."
“We’ve been taught that we should pray our problems away,” she says. “We’ve been taught to hold our problems close to the vest out of fear of being labeled weak or inadequate.”
Henson, who spoke about her personal journey with PTSD and depression when she was named one of PEOPLE's Women Changing the World in 2019, is being honored for the campaign she started in April to help the Black community access free, virtual therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Henson, 50, launched the campaign through The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which she named in honor of her father, who suffered from mental health issues after his tour of duty in the Vietnam War.
Founded in 2018, the nonprofit seeks to “change the perception of mental illness in the African American community by encouraging those who suffer with this debilitating illness to get the help they need.”
Finding the right therapist can be challenging for those in the Black community, a professional who “we can trust with our deepest vulnerabilities” and who also understands “the stresses of simply being Black in America,” Henson says.
This includes “racism, mass incarceration, police brutality and inequality in health care and persistent exclusion from economic opportunities,” she says.
Her goal, she says, is to “normalize how we talk about mental health.”
Jane Pauley tells PEOPLE hopes she can change the perception of mental health, just like Michael J. Fox did with Parkinson’s disease and Betty Ford did with breast cancer.
“When I got the award, which I'm looking at right now, it’s about hope and hope is positive,” says Pauley, 70, who is being honored for raising awareness about mental health issues.
She chronicled her struggle with bipolar disorder in her 2004 memoir, Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue.
Betty Ford fought breast cancer, “which is an affliction, and yet now we wear pink ribbons and we run for the cure," she says. "We can borrow the very brilliant strategy of people who have been so successful [in changing people’s perceptions about disease] and in such an important way, like Michael J. Fox” she says.
“Michael J. Fox will in his lifetime have raised a trillion dollars for Parkinson's research with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research — and that's brain research, by the way ... Any kind of brain research is going to benefit a lot of us. Go Michael!"
“If you attend any of his annual galas, they're hysterical. They're so much fun. They talk about serious things. But Michael J. Fox is funny, even when he talks about having Parkinson’s.
“Anything that's safe to laugh about is safe to go see someone about, right? But stigma is a thing. We can address it, but let's do it smart."