5 Black Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About Mental HealthSep 10, 2021 05:00PM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
There’s an unfortunate stigma around mental illness, which results in a culture of silence around the subject. In the Black community, that culture of silence is worse because of stereotypes that put Black men and women into the boxes of always needing to show strength and never embracing their vulnerability, which leads them to not seek out help when it’s really needed
Luckily, in recent years, we've seen a shift in the way people view and talk about mental health. Conversations about depression, anxiety, addiction, and more have moved from the private to the public sphere. When public figures open up about their own mental health struggles, it can help break down stigma, spark important discussions, and even inspire people to seek treatment.
In light of World Suicide Prevention Day, which is commemorated annually on September 10th to promote worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides, we rounded up Black celebrities who have spoken candidly about their own mental health battles.
Taraji P. Henson
Having suffered from anxiety and depression, Golden Globe-winner Taraji P. Henson has not only been vocal about her psychological problems but also about destigmatizing mental illness in the Black community. Henson has survived the death of her father from cancer in 2006 and the murder of her son’s father in 2003. Henson told Self magazine in 2019 that her anxiety symptoms include heart palpitations, sweating, nervousness, rumination, and feelings of helplessness. Moreover, she described her depression as a condition that can be “hard to climb up out of.”
“There are some times where I feel absolutely helpless,” she told Self. “That's human. Everybody feels like that. Just because I'm a Black woman, don't put that strong-superhero thing on me.” In 2018, Henson started a foundation called The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation that focuses on mental health in the African American population. Henson testified before the Congressional Black Caucus’s forum on youth suicide in 2019, acknowledging that she has been praised for being a young single mother who graduated from college and worked hard for a Hollywood career but that she often struggled during her journey to fame and that the myth of the strong Black woman is harmful. In December 2020, she began co-hosting a biweekly Facebook Watch series about mental health called Peace of Mind with Taraji with mental health advocate Tracie Jade.
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Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
Known for his charm and his thousand-watt smile, the American actor, producer, businessman, and retired professional wrestler has discussed his darker moments with depression in the past.
“My shoulder popped out of its socket and was just hanging there,” he told The Hollywood Report about his freshman year at the University of Miami. It sent him plummeting into his first of three depressions. “I didn’t know what it was,” he says. “I didn’t know why I didn’t want to do anything. I had never experienced anything like that.”
His 2008 divorce sent him into another depression. “Failing at marriage and as a husband was a heavy thing, and divorce had that special way of knocking me on my ass.” In a 2015 episode of Oprah’s Master Class, Johnson said that he got through depression by realizing that he wasn’t alone. “Have faith that on the other side of your pain is something good,” he said.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama revealed in August 2020 that she was suffering from low-grade depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic, racial tensions, and political divisions in the United States. “I'm waking up in the middle of the night because I'm worried about something or there's a heaviness," she said. "I try to make sure I get a workout in, although there have been periods throughout this quarantine, where I just have felt too low."
Obama elaborated that the Memorial Day 2020 police killing of unarmed African American George Floyd distressed her, as does the fact that so many Americans refuse to wear masks to prevent spreading COVID-19. ”Depression is understandable in these circumstances, during these times," she said in an interview with People magazine. "To think that somehow that we can just continue to rise above all the shock and the trauma and the upheaval that we have been experiencing without feeling it in that way is just unrealistic."
The famous singer told Essence in their July/August 2018 cover that depression and feelings of inadequacy have followed her since childhood. “I wasn’t happy with the way I looked. For most of my life, that lack of happiness followed me,” she wrote. “I wish someone had said, ‘You look fine. You look healthy. Being a little chubby is the least important thing in the world. Enjoy your childhood. Enjoy running and laughing and playing. Stop looking in the mirror and comparing yourself to others.”
Jackson previously revealed her depression in her 2011 self-help book, True You, in which she said lack of self-esteem stemming from her childhood manifested later in life as mental-health issues and affected her weight. “Low self-esteem might be rooted in childhood feelings of inferiority. It could relate to failing to meet impossibly high standards. And of course, there are always the societal issues of racism and sexism.”
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In a heartfelt message to his fans, the rapper revealed that he had checked himself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. “I'm tired of being held back in my life. I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling,” the rapper wrote in a candid Facebook post in October 2016. "It took me a while to get to this place of commitment, but it is something I have to do for myself, my family, my best friend/daughter and all of you, my fans.” The post sparked an important conversation about mental health in the Black community, especially among Black men. It began a hashtag on Twitter, #YouGoodMan, for Black men to open up about their experiences with mental illness and for people to discuss the intersection of race, masculinity, and mental health.
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Michelle Williams let the world in on her mental health journey and the decision to get the help she needed with severe depression. After stepping away from her role on a Broadway play, Williams issued a statement about her journey to recovery. Today I proudly, happily and healthily stand here as someone who will continue to always lead by example as I tirelessly advocate for the betterment of those in need, if you change your mind, you can change your life,” Williams wrote.
She also got candid about her journey with depression and prioritizing mental health in her memoir Checking In: How Getting Real About Depression Saved My Life — and Can Save Yours, where she discussed suicidal thoughts; the importance of her faith, family and friends; and the lessons she's learned about prioritizing her mental health. “Everything is not perfect," Williams said in an interview on CBSN. "And that is okay."
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Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies. She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.
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