Taraji P. Henson, 53, on destigmatizing menopause and embracing aging: 'You couldn't pay me enough to be 20 again!'

Actress Taraji P. Henson. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)
Actress Taraji P. Henson. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Looking back, Taraji P. Henson doesn’t remember talking about perimenopause or menopause with her mom. “The generation before really didn’t talk about it as much,” Henson, now starring in The Color Purple, tells Yahoo Life. “I didn’t even know there was a ‘peri’ to the menopause.”

As such, the Oscar-nominated actress didn’t realize she was going through perimenopause herself. “No one told me,” the 53-year-old recalls. “That's why these conversations are very important. Because you're thinking that ... it’s something that's wrong with you. And you're not even understanding that your hormones are haywire right now because your body's changing. And no one talks about it. You’re just thinking you're walking around dark and depressed, and you're not even understanding that this is a part of menopause.”

All the radio silence around the subject spurred Henson to broach the topic with her friends. “We started comparing notes,” remembers the Empire alum. “One girlfriend of mine who was in full-blown menopause started breaking down to me [everything that comes with] the change — the depression, the anxiety, the not being able to sleep. All I had heard [previously] was hot flashes. Oh boy, it’s deeper than that. I was excited about losing Bloody Mary [my period], but it would have been great to know what else was coming down the pike.”

After talking to her friends, Henson got her hormones checked and started working with a holistic doctor. “She gave me a protocol to help balance my hormones,” the Golden Globe winner recalls. “[I started] talking to and leaning on my therapist more.”

More recently, Henson was inspired to spread awareness by partnering with Always Discreet to break the stigma associated with perimenopause and one particularly nerve-racking side effect: urinary incontinence. “The most important thing is getting this information to women so they don't feel alone or embarrassed,” she says. “When I hear that people are staying home because they're suffering from bladder leakage, and they're stopping their whole lives because they're embarrassed, I want to do something about that. Because no one should be home suffering and in silence because of something that’s natural.”

Henson found that in addition to talking about the physical effects of midlife hormonal changes, sharing about the mental health aspects — like depression and anxiety — freed her from thinking she was the only person facing these challenges during menopause, which she jokes should be renamed “mental pause.”

“I’m really heavy into mental wellness,” says Henson. “I don't like to know that other humans are suffering when they don't have to or [that] they feel like they're alone. I always say to people, ‘If you have a story to tell, tell it, because someone out there needs to hear it.’”

The star is especially motivated to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health care among Black Americans. “For so long in the African American community, we never talked about mental health at all,” says Henson. “We were taught to pray it away, be strong. And for me, it was important that I got it out. Because I knew that I was saving or helping someone else in a culture [in which] we just really don't address it.” Her passion for the subject led her to found the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which offers vital mental health resources and encourages the Black community to seek help and support without fear or shame.

Although Henson wishes she had been privy to more conversations around mental health and menopause ahead of dealing with them both, she’s hopeful that the tide is turning for others.

“I'm loving what I'm seeing — I feel like women all over the world are starting to take the wheel,” says the actress. “We're starting to get really loud about our issues. I'm starting to see a lot more women be very vocal about [perimenopause and menopause]. And I think it's freeing up other women so they can come forward. That's just what we have to do to eradicate this stigma. I just feel like the time is now to get loud about the things that are important to us.”

Henson also hopes society can reframe how it sees women in midlife and beyond. “When it comes to women aging, it's almost like we're sent off to the pasture, and it's not fair to us, because, in my opinion, we get better as we age,” she says. “I was dumb as hell when I was in my 20s. I mean, you couldn’t pay me enough to be 20 again! That's how stupid I was. But we just need to change the narrative about women [and] aging.”

Her view on aging is simple: “Don’t fight it. Embrace it, because it's inevitable.”