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Taraji P Henson talks 'making it cool' for black people to tackle mental health

Speaking to EWN, the Hollywood actress says black people often don't get the necessary help because they are misdiagnosed or told to pray it away.

Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee Taraji P Henson in Johannesburg as part of her 'Empire' tour.  Picture: Kayleen Morgan/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Hollywood actress Taraji P Henson says through her foundation that is aimed at tackling mental health, she wants to make it cool for black communities to shake off the stigma and get help.

The Golden Globe-winning Empire star is in South Africa to interact with her local fan base and promote her current projects, which include the Fox series, which will return with for the fifth season in 2019.

She spoke to EWN Lifestyle about the work she does through the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named in honour of her late father, who was an army veteran who suffered from mental health.

"He was very open about talking about it [mental health]. He lived his truth and that's what this foundation is about. He taught me to live and walk in my truth because when you know who you are, nobody can use you against you.

She says she and her son had experienced a few traumatic moments in their lives and when it came to getting help, there was no form of help that 'looked like them' in terms of people who could relate to their experiences as African Americans living in their country, especially for her son whose father had been murdered a few years ago.

"He's becoming a young black man. And so it was very hard. It isn't even about race, you just have to be culturally competent. If you don't know my struggle and I come in full of rage... black people have a lot to be angry about..."

Henson says black people often don't get the necessary help because they are misdiagnosed, told to pray it away or are demonised and never get to deal with their issues.

"You can't give me a pill for my rage. I don't need a pill. I need you to hear me. But you have to be culturally competent to do that."

'IF YOU'RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT IT, BE ABOUT IT'

To establish her foundation, she started doing research about help that is readily available for black people and found that it is few and far between.

"It's not that foundations don't exist and people don't do this kind of work. It's just that you didn't have anybody like myself who is going through this... Just because you have money, it doesn't make it all go away. Money fixes nothing."

Henson says she herself has learned to take care of her mental health and visits a therapist on a weekly basis. "If you're going to talk about it, you gotta be about it," she says.

She says now that the foundation has launched, she's received positive feedback from black people, including singer and one of her former co-stars, Tyrese Gibson, who told her she's making it cool to seek help.

"That's all I ever wanted to do. At least let us talk about it."

She highlights three key things she wants to do through her foundation: "Get more kids interested in the field by offering scholarships. We're dealing with recidivism in prisons and getting therapists in urban schools."

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