The Empire star said that she was dealing with mood swings, heart palpitations and feelings of helplessness, and about two years ago she realized that she needed help.
“I noticed the mood swings, like one day I’d be up and the next day I’d be down, feeling like I don’t want to go out in public. Almost agoraphobic, like, ‘Ugh, too much to deal with,’ ” Henson, 49, told SELF. “Feeling really awkward in my skin, feeling out of sorts. And just down, like Debbie Downer, like a dark cloud.”
Along with those symptoms of depression, Henson had intense anxiety.
“There were days when my brain wouldn’t stop racing, which I would think of the most worst scenarios in the world, which would heighten my anxiety, and people were like, ‘You just need to meditate and yoga and things like that,’ and I would do that but by brain would still race,” she said.
Henson sought help, and now regularly sees a therapist, practices meditation and prays to manage her symptoms. She said it felt like the necessary step.
“For me, there was no shame when I started to recognize it,” she said. “It was like that I have to get some help because I’m the life of the party and when I go dark I go dark. I don’t want to leave the house and my friends started to notice me pulling back.”
“I felt such a relief when I finally said it publicly,” she added. “… I was drowning, and once I spoke my truth, I started to float back.”
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Henson says that speaking openly about mental health is not always easy.
“In the African-American community, we don’t talk about mental health. It’s a stigma surrounding it,” she said. “We’re just not allowed to be vulnerable, we have to be strong all the time. This is 400 years of damage, 400 years of trauma, that we have not dealt with.”
In an effort to change that, Henson started the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation — named after her father, who she believes had bipolar disorder — to end the stigma and lower the growing rate of childhood suicides. The nonprofit works with schools to provide safe spaces for kids to talk about their emotions, works with students in tough home situations and provides therapists.
“We have to deal with these traumatic situations [that children experience], and these teachers and therapists and social workers need to be trained in cultural competency to be able to pinpoint [when a] child is having an issue that’s deeper than just wanting to be bad in class,” she said.
Henson’s dad died in 2006 from liver cancer, and she said, “I think he’d be really proud” of the work she’s doing in his name.