Taraji P. Henson on Fighting the Stigma of Mental Health Issues: 'It's Okay Not to Be Okay'

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Taraji P. Henson, who started the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation last year to eradicate the stigma around mental health care in the African-American community, spent Friday on Capitol Hill.

“The suicide rate has taken off,” the Empire star tells PEOPLE. “It amazes me that 5-year-olds are contemplating suicide. That’s a word you shouldn’t even understand at five years old.”

Henson adds, “We don’t talk about mental health, we don’t deal with it. For generations, we’ve been told it’s a weakness, to pray our problems away – and that’s just not gonna cut it.”

On Friday, the actress urged members of the Black Caucus to join her in talking about mental illness – and getting people the help they need. “I’m only one voice. I need help,” she tells PEOPLE, adding that she wants mental healthcare to be taught in schools.

“If we can teach children about sex education and physical education, why not mental?” she says. “That’s where we start attacking this issue: with the children.”

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