Taraji P. Henson Has Depression and Anxiety – And She’s Made Something Good Out of It

Taraji P. Henson has been exceptionally open about her mental health issues, especially her struggles with depression and anxiety. It’s impressive that she uses her fame as a platform to shed light on these areas that millions upon millions deal with.

Taraji P. Henson
Taraji P. Henson | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Find out the watershed moment that led to especially her anxiety and what the proactive actress is doing about it.

When Taraji P. Henson first noticed the depression and anxiety

The actress shared the event that seemed to cause her anxiety to pool up and pour out of her.

“All my life I’ve been bubbly and the life of the party,” she told Self earlier this month. “Things started to shift for me when Trayvon Martin—when that happened.”

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Trayvon Martin was an African-American teenager who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in 2012. His killing caused controversy nationally, as Zimmerman, a white neighbor of Martin’s father, claimed he shot the unarmed young man in self-defense.

For Henson, Martin’s death hit especially close to home, since her own son was about Martin’s age. She realized even her own celebrity couldn’t protect her son.

“That’s when I noticed anxiety started kicking in,” she says. “They’re not going to [know] Taraji’s son out here on these streets. It’s me that is the star. He’s not.”

Henson sought help for her mental health issues

For the actress, her anxiety would make itself known to her physically through jitteriness, sweating, helplessness, and constant and intrusive thoughts. Her struggle is also with depression, which she describes as a blanketing darkness. “It’s hard to climb up out of it,” she shared.

“I noticed the mood swings — first I’d be up, then I’d be down. I didn’t really want to go out in public. Almost agoraphobic like: ‘Ah, too much to deal with.’ Feeling really awkward in my skin. Feeling out of sorts. And just down. Like Debbie Downer. Like a dark cloud.”

Henson felt overwhelmed by her internal distress, as well as her son’s own needs growing up without a father or grandfather. She finally decided to find a therapist for herself and her son.

“The therapy came into play out of necessity. It was [a] time where I was like, ‘Oh, I’m just not feeling like myself anymore,’ and my son was going through his issues with becoming a young black male in America with no dad and no grandad. It was like, ‘Okay, I’m not a professional. We both need help.’”

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Thanks to her fellow Empire star, Gabourey Sidibe, she found a therapist who is African American and enabled her to get through so much of the underlying pain unique to Henson’s situation. Her therapist also showed her that part of her struggles with mood swings could be blamed on menopause.

“When you find that right person, oh my God, the sky cracks open,” Henson said.

What she’s doing about it

In her conversation with Self, the actress shared that her dream is for mental health issues to be normalized and that anyone suffering from it – whether anxiety, bipolar depression, borderline disorder, whatever it may be – can seek help without feeling shame or judgment.

With that motivation close to her heart, the 49-year-old initiated a nonprofit in 2018, The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which she named after her late father who struggled with bipolar disorder. The mission of the nonprofit is to serve the black community’s mental health needs, and especially to help young adults find the right therapists.

Speaking to Maria Shriver on Today in October 2019, Henson said she’ll know her organization has served its purpose “when we can literally talk about mental health in our community without being laughed at, or being called crazy, or being demonized.”

“I want to touch as many children as possible. These babies are suffering,” she said. “And I just feel that is what God sent me here to do. I finally figured it out.”