Henson has been open about her own struggles with depression and anxiety

By Aurelie Corinthios
May 09, 2019 04:16 PM
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for STX Films

Taraji P. Henson wants to normalize the conversation of mental illness in the African-American community.

The Empire star, who has been open about her own struggles with depression and anxiety, announced Thursday that her Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation will host a two-day mental health summit next month.

The inaugural “Can We Talk?” conference and benefit dinner will take place on June 7-9 in Washington, D.C.

The summit will provide attendees with an opportunity to engage with notable mental health experts, policy-makers and thought leaders to focus on strategies to end the mental health stigma and help community members in need.

“Mental illness is a huge issue in the black community. The suicide rate of young people has doubled in the last 15 years, this is a national crisis,” said Henson, 48. “We are working to normalizing the conversation in our communities at a younger age to eradicate the stigma. We have to start somewhere — and I believe openly talking about it is a good place to start.”

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Henson founded her nonprofit in 2018, naming it after her father, Boris Lawrence Henson, who struggled with mental health challenges as a result of his tour of duty in the Vietnam War.

The summit will kick off June 7 with a 300-person benefit dinner with a keynote address delivered by Dr. Altha J. Stewart, the first African-American to be named President of the American Psychiatric Association.

Conversations led by Henson and BLHF 2019 Youth Council Ambassador, Isan Elba, will follow, geared towards engaging the youth community. Guests will then be invited to a VIP reception and dinner with special speakers and performances to be announced soon.

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BLHF will also present the “You Got This!” campaign to encourage trying therapy. Proceeds from the benefit will go towards the campaign in an effort to support access to therapy for African-Americans who may not have the means to cover expenses. BLHF’s goal is to raise $500,000 to offer free therapy sessions to those who are willing to try it for the first time.

According to BLHF, one in five Americans suffer from mental illness and African-Americans are the least likely population to seek treatment. The foundation aims to provide urban schools with resources to address the mental health needs of African-American students.

The Oscar-nominated actress recently opened up to Variety about her own struggles, revealing the lack of black mental health professionals is what pushed her to start her foundation.

“You can talk to your friends, but you need a professional who can give you exercises,” she said. “So that when you’re on the ledge, you have things to say to yourself that will get you off that ledge and past your weakest moments.”

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