Academy Award and Emmy Award-nominated actress and recently engaged Taraji P. Henson launched The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF) in honor of her late father in order to help eradicate the stigma around mental health issues in the African-American community and provide support for and bring awareness to mental health issues that plague this community.
“I named the organization after my father because of his complete and unconditional love for me; his unabashed, unashamed ability to tell the truth, even if it hurt; and his strength to push through his own battles with mental health issues,” said Taraji P. Henson to the L.A. Sentinel. “My dad fought in the Vietnam War for our country, returned broken, and received little to no physical and emotional support. I stand now in his absence, committed to offering support to African Americans who face trauma daily, simply because they are Black.”
To celebrate the foundation’s launch, the star will host a special fundraising event in Beverly Hills on Saturday, September 22. Taraji’s Boutique of Hope will introduce BLHF to the world and will raise funds to support one of the foundation’s goals of providing resources to increase mental health support in urban schools. With partnering school districts, BLHF will help to provide more culturally competent mental health therapists, social workers, and counselors to African-American children in need.
According to the National Association on Mental Illness, African Americans generally experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Common mental health disorders among African Americans include:
– Major depression
– Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
– Suicide, among young African American men
– Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because African Americans are more likely to be victims of violent crime
African Americans are also more likely to experience certain factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition:
– Homelessness. People experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of developing a mental health condition. African Americans make up 40% of the homeless population.
– Exposure to violence increases the risk of developing a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. African American children are more likely to be exposed to violence than other children.
“BLHF is breaking the silence by speaking out and encouraging others to…
… share their challenges with mental illness and get the help they need,” said BLHF Executive Director Tracie Jenkins. “African-Americans have regarded such communication as a sign of weakness and our vision is to change that perception.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Services, adult African Americans, especially those with higher levels of education, are less likely to seek mental health services than their white counterparts.
Historically, African Americans have normalized our own suffering. During slavery, mental illness often resulted in a more inhumane lifestyle including frequent beatings and abuse, which forced many slaves to hide their issues. Over time, strength became equated with survival and weakness (including mental illness) meant you might not survive. That stigma still exists today. That’s a stigma that BLHF is trying to fight.
BLHF will partner with other nonprofit organizations who offer programs that educate, celebrate, and make visible the positive impact of mental health wellness. Through these partnerships, the foundation will ensure cultural competency in caring for African Americans who struggle with mental illness by providing scholarships to African-American students who seek a career in the mental health field; offer mental health services and programs to young people in urban schools; and combat recidivism within the prison system.