Although she is known for her role as Cookie Lyons on the television series "Empire," Taraji P. Henson has taken on a new role as a founder of virtual therapy. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Henson launched free online therapy services targeted to African Americans.
Henson said her inspiration for starting the campaign was people suffering in isolation. "You're already talking about underserved communities, these people ... a lot of them have come from traumatic situations, are living in traumatic situations and now you're talking about quarantining," Henson told ABC News Live anchor Linsey Davis. "This is trauma on top of trauma."
Henson is conducting the campaign through her Boris L. Henson Foundation, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2018 named after her father, Boris Lawrence Henson, who also suffered with mental health challenges as a result of his tour during the Vietnam War. "Because I'm blessed, my father always told me to be a blessing. I started this foundation because of the stigma around mental health in the African American community," she said.
Her foundation's focus is to offset the costs of mental health services which can be a barrier for some.
"Having to choose between a meal and mental health is not something that one should ever have to ponder," said Henson. "You're talking about an idea that’s passed down for generations, pray your problems away, you have to be strong, you can't be vulnerable because that's a sign of weakness. If we shift that thinking and normalize this stigma, I think that will help. It's okay to be vulnerable, it is okay for us to be vulnerable. I don't want to be strong all the time. I can't. It's physically and mentally impossible in today's world."
Henson called the response to her campaign, "overwhelming."
"We have hundreds of new therapists that have signed up. And our site actually crashed. We had to recalibrate for 30 minutes because of the overwhelming response," she said
The campaign will cover the cost of five sessions of therapy for "individuals with life-changing stressors and anxiety related to the coronavirus."
"It took me years to find a therapist I felt comfortable with or that got me or was able to reach me in some way, or give me the proper tools to handle my roadblocks," Henson said. "And it's not going to be easy, but you have to be willing to put that kind of work into loving yourself."
She said that her hope is that through her mass Instagram following, everyone can help in some way others who are in need of assistance even after the pandemic. "I'm asking for anybody, I have 15 million followers, if everyone gave a dollar, we are saving lives," said Henson. "This is very, very important especially in these times because once this is all over and said and done all of us will be traumatized by this. None of us will ever be the same."
Virtual therapy sessions are now available through the BLHF website.