About two years ago, Taraji P. Henson (known best as Cookie Lyon on “Empire”) began to notice she was experiencing mood swings — high highs and very low lows. After talking with her therapist and doing a little age-related math, she says she realized that these things deeply affecting her mental health were related to menopause.
“I would get so low, really, really low, beaten, like never before,” Henson said in an interview for Self’s December digital cover story. “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.”
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Symptoms of depression and anxiety aren’t uncommon for people transitioning into menopause, according to the Cleveland Clinic. As hormone levels change (estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuating), so can the chemistry experiment forever going on in your brain — which can definitely affect your mood and day-to-day life. And, especially, if you haven’t experienced bouts of depression, anxiety or panic attacks, it can be a scary and confusing thing to go through.
Henson tells Self that, after getting the confirmation that the feelings she had were something she could identify and, more importantly, something she could talk about, it became easier to plan how to manage them.
“Sometimes, the weight is just too much and to put on that facade like you are strong all the time is exactly what it is, a facade; that’s whack,” she said in a video for Self, noting that appearing strong (especially for a black woman) is an unfair burden to put on yourself when you have so many feelings that demand to be felt.
And, instead, she says it’s necessary to find a community that can support you and that you can support in return: “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 shit, it’s going to consume you.”
As a celebrity, Henson talking about her mental health and sharing that vulnerability with the public can have a far-reaching impact for others who are struggling. And it pairs well with her own advocacy from recent years: In 2018 established her own nonprofit dedicated to supporting mental health awareness in the black community. Named after her father, who died in 2006 and was believed to have bipolar disorder, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation works to reduce stigma around mental health conversations in black communities, work with schools and mental health professionals to give students the resources and spaces they need to succeed and take care of their brains.