Taraji P. Henson creates campaign to offer African Americans therapy during pandemic

“Anxiety and stress builds up quickly with so many changes everyday and if you’re anything like me, you need somebody to lean on, to talk to, to help manage your anxiety.”
Image: Today - Season 69
Taraji P. Henson on NBC's "TODAY" show on Jan. 24, 2020.Zach Pagano / TODAY

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By Gwen Aviles

The actress Taraji P. Henson has started a campaign to help black people, who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, access free therapy during the outbreak.

“Anxiety and stress builds up quickly with so many changes everyday and if you’re anything like me, you need somebody to lean on, to talk to, to help manage your anxiety,” Henson said in a recent Instagram video. “But I also know it’s not easy for everyone to just pick up the phone and call a therapist, because who’s going to pay for it?”

Henson is operating the campaign through her organization The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which she founded in 2018. Named in honor of her father who suffered from mental health challenges after serving in the Vietnam War, the nonprofit organization seeks to “change the perception of mental illness in the African American community by encouraging those who suffer with this debilitating illness to get the help they need.”

As of Wednesday, those seeking telehealth can register for a free virtual therapy session via the foundation’s website, or text Nostigma to 707070.

“This campaign is for underserved communities experiencing life-changing events related to, or triggered by, the COVID-19 pandemic,” Henson said. “In the African American community, we’ve been taught to tough it out, hide our suffering, but this is something none of us have ever experienced, and no one should suffer in silence.”

While mental health services have shown to be inaccessible to many in the United States, research indicates that African Americans encounter added challenges that prevent them from getting the care they need. Among those challenges, according to Thomas Vance, a postdoctoral psychology fellow at The New School in Manhattan, are increased stigma associated with mental health concerns and lack of available culturally competent care. According to the American Psychological Association, about 4 percent of practicing psychologists from 2007 to 2016 were black.

Vance also cited “prejudice and racism inherent in the daily environment of black individuals, and historical trauma enacted on the black community by the medical field,” in an article posted to Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry website titled “Addressing Mental Health in the Black Community.

“Issues related to economic insecurity, and the associated experiences, such as violence and criminal injustice,” he said, “further serve to compound the mental health disparities in the black population.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.