12:10pm PT by Chris Gardner
Taraji P. Henson Sets Initiative to Provide Free Therapy to Underserved Communities Impacted by COVID-19
Mental health services have been front of mind for many public health leaders amid the coronavirus pandemic as social distancing and self-isolation guidelines coupled with a devastated economy have led to a rise in anxiety, fear and other issues for many across the globe. Taraji P. Henson is now stepping up in an effort to provide free tele-therapy sessions to African Americans in underserved communities.
The actress, who has made mental health services a priority through her Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, has launched the COVID-19 Free Virtual Therapy Campaign to raise money to cover the costs of mental health services delivered by licensed and culturally competent clinicians. It will be exclusive to individuals and families who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
"It’s our priority to provide care to those in need, who do not have accessibility or the ability to afford culturally competent therapists. We also need to remove the stigma around mental illness. It’s okay not to be okay," says BLHF executive director Tracie Jade Jenkins.
Registration will open via the foundation's website on April 15. Donations can be made by texting NOSTIGMA to 707070. Henson launched BLHF in 2018 in honor of her father, who suffered with mental health challenges as a result of his tour of duty in the Vietnam War. At the time of its launch, Henson told The Hollywood Reporter that she wishes more people talked about mental health issues, particularly in the African American community — especially men. "They are told to be strong and tough it out and told that you’re weak if you have issues," she related. "We’re all human. We’re all in this thing called life together, and it is tough. We're not afraid to talk about having a root canal or there’s no shame in having a thyroid issue or even cancer. Why can’t we talk about mental health in the same way?"
Her initiative comes at a time when data has surfaced showing how COVID-19 disproportionately affects members of the black community, particular in major cities such as Chicago, New Orleans and Detroit. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer, for the first time, released numbers showing that local communities have also been impacted more seriously. Based on preliminary data of the 93 deaths in the county thus far, 28 percent are Latino, 27 percent white, 19 percent Asian, 17 percent African American and 9 percent "other." Based on infection rates and total population counts, African American residents have a "slightly higher rate of death than other ethnicities," she said, adding that her team will be watching these numbers closely as they gather complete data. Additional figures are expected to be announced shortly.
See below for more on the initiative, which Henson announced Wednesday on Instagram.