The Personal Reason Why Taraji P. Henson Is So Open About Her Mental Health

Taraji P. Henson spoke to E! News about her own ongoing mental health journey and her foundation's collaboration with Kate Spade New York to bring wellness resources to women on HBCU campuses.

By Natalie Finn Apr 11, 2023 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Taraji P. Henson Assures Mental Illness Is "Nothing To Be Ashamed Of"

Taraji P. Henson may have shared a few stunning photos from her stay in Bali, but make no mistake, that was a trip for her—not the 'gram.

"I wasn't there for fancy posts," the Empire star explained to E! News' Francesca Amiker in an exclusive interview. "I shared some of it because I know a lot of my fans were concerned about me. And a lot of people could identify with where I was, they felt the same way."

The longtime mental health advocate wanted people to know she was once again "smiling deep" because she had shared in a December interview that she hadn't felt truly happy in a long time. Soon after, she embarked on her trip to recover what she felt had gone missing from her life.

"I had really hit a wall," Henson told E!, "but I decided to do something about it. I decided to fight for myself and to dig deep within, and work on myself. And that's when I went away to Bali for a whole month and I literally ate, prayed and loved. I met an incredible community of people that I still keep in touch with, and I found my joy and my happiness."

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Truly, she added, "I'm not the same woman that I was before I went to Bali. I feel like myself again."

So, Henson didn't mean to cause FOMO with those enviable vistas and her bright island-vacay ensembles—that's just what happens when people post snaps from Balinese getaways.


But when paradise isn't right outside the door, the Oscar-nominated actress, whose upcoming slate includes a guest spot on Abbott Elementary and co-starring in the feature musical adaptation of The Color Purple, tends to her well-being on the home front by keeping it simple.

"Unplugging and staying at home with my dog and watching mindless television, eating bonbons on the sofa," Henson, who also has her TPH by Taraji hair care line launching April 19 on HSN, described her self-care go-tos. "I love simple—as simple as I can keep life, that's my woosah." (As Bad Boy II fans know, that's the reminder to pause and breathe when life gets hectic.)

But the 52-year-old also credits therapy and her support system—including friends such as Octavia Spencer, Essence Atkins, Regina Hall, Regina King, and Mary J. Blige—for being there to lift her up, especially when she experienced suicidal ideation during COVID-19 lockdown.

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"I knew that I needed to say it—if you keep it and you suffer alone, that thought becomes an action," Henson shared. "I already knew that, so that's when I called my friends immediately and was like, 'Oh my God, I was thinking like this.'"

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Knowing how vital it is to be able to speak out and have access to help is what drives the star's work as founder of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation. And the organization's latest venture, She Care Wellness Pods—a partnership with Kate Spade New York to bring frontline mental wellness care to women on HBCU campuses—is extra close to the Howard University alum's heart.

"I became a mom when I was in college," explained Henson, who had son Marcell Johnson in 1994. (His father, William LaMarr Johnson, was killed in 2003.) "And although I'm so grateful and thankful for my family, who told me not to give up and they were gonna be there for me, I saw a lot of girls come and go because they became pregnant."

If a program like this had been around when she was at Howard, she added, "maybe some of those girls would have been able to stay in school."

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In addition to providing "a safe space for these young women to decompress," Henson said, the pods will offer a range of services, including free virtual and in-person therapy and self-regulatory practices such as yoga and meditation. 

"We prepare these young ladies to get their degrees, but do we fully prepare them for the world to come?" Henson noted. "We wanted to do something about that. We want to see women win and we want them, most importantly, to be mentally sound."

All of which has motivated Henson's openness when it comes to her own mental health journey, whether she's acknowledging in an interview that she's struggling or sharing photos from her trip to reclaim her smile. And she practices what she preaches as a mom, wanting Marcell to be comfortable talking about his feelings as well.

"Humans are gonna go through tough times," she said. "I can't prevent that, for him or anybody else. But we can just be there for each other and share our experiences. That's why I'm so vocal about what I go through, so that hopefully it'll help someone else."

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