The actress, who has anxiety and depression, just reminded us all of the importance of connecting with the person you speak to about your mental health.
Taraji P Henson loves her friends: they have been huge supporters of her over the years.
But there’s only so much help that a friend can give you, especially when you’re struggling with mental health issues. That’s why the Oscar-nominated actress wants to remind everyone to seek professional help from a therapist if they need it.
“That’s the only way I can get through it,” she told Variety. “You can talk to your friends, but you need a professional who can give you exercises. So that when you’re on the ledge, you have things to say to yourself that will get you off that ledge and past your weakest moments.”
A professional therapist who has studied the mind is the person who can help you when you need it, Henson explained. But it’s also the fact that a therapist won’t be afraid to impart some tough love on the road to recovery.
“Their job is to make sure you’re mentally sound, whatever that is and telling you the truth, which might hurt,” Henson said. “If I’m going to change for the better, I need honesty, and sometimes your friends and family don’t have it in them to be brutally honest.”
Henson said that she sees her therapist regularly and that she went through “several therapists” before she found one that she felt comfortable with. “That takes time,” she admitted. “I remember the first time I went, I was angry, because I was like, ‘She didn’t tell me nothing! She didn’t tell me anything!’ You’re not going to figure it all out in one sitting.”
She continued: “It’s like a relationship. I’ve got to feel comfortable because that’s the only way I’m going to keep coming back to you. To keep dealing with this ugly stuff, I have to feel totally safe. I need to feel like even though I know we don’t have all day, you’ve got to make me feel like we have all day.”
Some of the tools that her therapist taught her include switching off her devices and creating a barrier between herself and social media. Right now, she only has social media apps downloaded on her iPad, and she only uses them for work.
“Social media is good and bad,” she explained. “Even if life is good for you, you can still get on there and become depressed because people are filtering pictures and living these false lives and it makes you second guess yourself, not intentionally, it just does.”
It’s not only social media that encroaches on Henson’s anxiety and depression. It’s the paparazzi, the lack of privacy as a famous person, and the fact that she is a successful woman of colour in a world designed for white men.
At one point, Henson told a story about living in a “rich area” in Chicago in a building full of white families.
“Before I got Cookie [her role on Empire], I remember I walked into the elevator,” Henson recalled. “I own in this building – I was not renting. I own. And I was wearing Chanel head-to-toe. Very classy. This older white couple gets on, and it was very uncomfortable. I felt that nasty stare from the husband… He looked at me as if I should be dead, like, ‘What the fuck are you doing in this building?’”
She continued: “Now, they will never treat me like that because they know who I am, but people who are not Taraji P Henson deal with that every day. And I don’t like it because I don’t know who I’m dealing with – are you being nice to me because I’m Cookie or because you really like me?”
Another thing that impinges on her mental health is the fact that she constantly has to fight for pay equality, even at this point in her career. The struggles started on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a job for which Henson originally requested $500,000 as payment. The studio offered her just $100,000. Eventually, she negotiated up to $150,000 – and nabbed herself a Best Supporting Actress nomination – but it was the start of a long road of pay negotiations that still hasn’t ended.
“Still a fight,” she said. “I don’t get paid if I don’t fight.”
These days, if studios don’t agree to meet her quote Henson will walk away from the job. “I’m not selling myself short,” she explained. “If you want a discount performance, go get it. They’re out there. But you’re not getting it from me. I deliver, and I have the track record to prove it.”
Know you worth, and know when to seek help. Excellent advice from Henson.
Images: Getty, Hidden Figures