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Taraji Henson Launches Foundation to Raise Awareness for Mental Health Issues in the Black Community

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“Empire” actress Taraji Henson is launching a new foundation in honor of her late father. The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation will raise awareness and provide support for mental health issues in the black community. The foundation’s official launch date is Sept. 22.

“BLHF is breaking the silence by speaking out and encouraging others to share their challenges with mental illness and get the help they need,”Henson wrote in a statement. “African-Americans have regarded such communication as a sign of weakness and our vision is to change that perception… Together, we will break the silence and break the cycle.”

The foundation has three main initiatives to address issues that affect African-Americans disproportionately. The first is to provide mental health support for students in urban schools, who have the highest need, according to the foundation.

The Mighty previously spoke to Quinn Gee, a licensed psychotherapist, about the statistic that black children are more likely to die by suicide than their white counterparts. She said this could be related to the lack of representation within the mental health profession.

According to the American Psychological Association, only 5.3 percent of practicing psychologists are black. Henson’s foundation hopes to remedy the lack of black therapists by providing scholarships to high school and college students pursuing a career in psychology.

The organization’s other initiative plans to reduce the rate of people who return to prison by supporting organizations that offer mental health support to those recently released. Mental illness is overrepresented in prison systems, according to a 2016 study. To accommodate this need, the foundation will provide support to people for at least three years after their prison release.

“The poor, members of minority groups, and people with a history of law-enforcement involvement are shuttled into the correctional system in disproportionate numbers; they are more likely to be arrested and less likely than their more privileged counterparts to be adequately treated for their psychiatric illnesses,” Dr. Christine Montross wrote for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Henson said her father fought in the Vietnam War, returned “broken,” and received little support. She wants to eradicate stigma by encouraging others to seek help.

“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,” Henson said.

If you’re looking for a black therapist, there are a few resources online. Black Therapists Rock provides access to a therapist directory, and Therapy for Black Girls also has a therapist directory specifically for black women and girls.

Image via Creative Commons/El Grillo Amarillo

Originally published: August 16, 2018
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