Taraji P. Henson is never one to shy away from tough topics surrounding mental health and she’s opening up to SELF magazine. Taraji is the mag’s digital cover star and inside she’s speaking candidly about life changes she’s experienced, particularly surrounding menopause, her mental health, and her man.
The actress, 49, told Self that she noticed a mental switch in herself that later realized was part of menopause. She also discussed meeting her now fiance Kelvin Hayden and finding a black female therapist via her friend/costar Gabourey Sidibe.
On menopause: “I would get so low, really, really low, beaten, like never before,” she says. “You may have those days [when] you’re like, ‘Oh, I just don’t feel like getting out of bed. I just want to sleep in,’ but you don’t feel heavy. I was just starting to feel heavy a lot, [like] suffocating…. It just came out of nowhere.” At first, she didn’t think these emotions were related to menopause. Then she started doing the math: “I’m like, ‘Well, you are pushing 50, girl. At some point things are going to change.’””Find you a group of women that are going through the same thing. Talk and laugh about it,” she says. “If you sit on that toilet and you don’t flush that s***, it’s going to consume you.”
On her relationship: “We shook hands and I swear I heard angels,” she says. “That’s the joke I tell. But he just felt right,” adding that, minus a few bumps in the road, they’ve been together ever since. About those bumps: Initially Hayden, who is 13 years Henson’s junior, thought she was a “prima donna celebrity who has her way with guys and moves on,” she says. Henson thought Hayden was a good-looking “athlete who has his way with women.” She started to assume that his proneness to falling asleep when she got home from work meant he was exhausted from cheating escapades. “Whenever he would fall asleep, [I’d think,] Oh, you cheating on me?” she recalls. Miscommunications like these led to a breakup, she says.
On friend Gabourey Sidibe, who introduced her to her therapist (Gabourey comments too): After a string of false starts, she finally found a match when her Empire co-star Gabourey Sidibe introduced Henson to her own therapist, another black woman “It was extremely important for me to find a therapist who is a black woman, just because black women live in a different world than everyone else,” Sidibe tells me via email, when I reach out to ask her about her thought process in sharing her mental health care provider with a friend and colleague. “Our problems, daily interactions, and expectations are different than most other people, so I wanted a therapist who I could cut through the societal foundation of who I am with, so that we could get to my specific issues. There’s a shorthand between us. We speak the same language because we’re from the same world.”
Sidibe says she felt like sharing her therapist with others was just the right thing to do. “She is the most human therapist I’ve known,” she says, “and when I encounter anyone who I think would benefit from my therapist’s humanity, I’ll always recommend her. It wouldn’t be fair to keep this mental wellness to myself.” Henson was on board, in no small part because she knew that Sidibe had done the work herself. “She’s Gabby, honey,” Henson muses. “She’s fabulous, she’s everything, but what I do know is that she’s…embraced her issues.”
On first noticing her anxiety skyrocketing after Trayvon Martin: “All my life I’ve been bubbly and the life of the party,” she says. “Things started to shift for me when Trayvon Martin—when that happened.” His killing stoked special pain for Henson, whose son, Marcell Johnson, was close to Martin’s age. “That’s when I noticed anxiety started kicking in,” she says. She feared that even her own fame wouldn’t be enough to protect her son. “They’re not going to [recognize] Taraji’s son out here on these streets,” she says. “It’s me that is the star. He’s not.”
On defending Terrence and Jussie because she feels like you have to support and love your friends:
Henson’s inclination to gaze at black people through caring eyes might be one of the reasons she’s remained supportive of her costars Terrence Howard and Jussie Smollett. “I love like a mother,” she admits. She doesn’t flinch when I ask her why she hasn’t publicly distanced herself from Howard and Smollett. The former has a history of domestic violence allegations and controversial comments to his name. The latter faced a host of legal charges for allegedly staging an assault. (Smollett denied the charges, and all of them were dropped.) Friendship, to Henson, comes with a lack of judgment. “If I’m your friend, I can’t judge you,” she says. “ I just can’t. I could do something, and I wouldn’t want you to turn your back. We’re humans. We’re flawed. No one is perfect. I might not necessarily agree with everything, but I think every human deserves some form of humanity, some form of compassion.”
Taraji also sat down for a video with SELF where she talks about mental health in depth and her battle with depression and anxiety. Taraji takes all this very seriously, she recently launched the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in honor of her late father with a goal to end the stigma of mental health issues within the Black community