Photo from Coverage on C-Span
Health 10 June 2019
On Friday, June 7th, Taraji P Henson, actor and mental health advocate, testified in front of Congress to address mental health and the rising suicide rates of adolescents in the African-American community.
Henson spoke on behalf of her Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, whose mission is to "eradicate the stigma around mental health issues in the African-American community."
Henson confidently leveraged her celebrity platform in front of the Congressional Black Caucus Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, stating, "I am using my celebrity and my voice to put a face to this."
During the emotional testimony, Henson disclosed her own struggles with depression and anxiety with the hope that through publicly talking about mental illness as a black woman, she will aid in changing the stigma of mental health in African-American communities.
"In the African-American community, we don't deal with mental health issues," said Henson during her testimony. "We don't even talk about it."
According to a study published by the NCBI in 2014 entitled African American Men and Women's Attitude Toward Mental Illness, Perceptions of Stigma, and Preferred Coping Behaviors, the 272 African-American participants were "not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, are very concerned about stigma associated with mental illness, and are somewhat open to seeking mental health services, but they prefer religious coping."
Henson pleaded for more mental health counselors and mental health education in response to the rising suicide rates. Data suggests that from 2007 to 2015, the U.S. ED estimate visits for suicide attempts/suicidal thoughts in children five to eighteen years old has doubled to 1.12 million per year.
In her testimony, Henson also pushes for more African-American mental health professional as just under 2% of the members of the American Psychological Association identify as African-American. The lack of African-American psychological professionals leads African-American patients to question whether their therapists are culturally competent in areas required to treat specific problems such as the effects of race-based trauma. Henson says in her testimony, that "when it was time to look for someone who I felt I could trust and my son could trust, it felt like looking for a unicorn."
Henson argues that mental illness and mental health should be implemented into school curriculums as education, similar to the implementation of physical education or sex education. Henson believes that "the more we talk about it, the more people will feel they can talk about it."
The testimony concluded with Henson expressing the importance of coming together to create positive change in the form of resources, education, and awareness. "We need each other. This is me reaching across the table, trying to lend a helping hand in the best way I can. We have to save our children."
After her testimony, Henson took to Instagram to share a synopsis of her experience in front of Congress. Her post, which has received over 640,000 likes to date, has over 12,000 comments of appreciation, words of encouragement, and people sharing their personal stories. Henson has even taken time to respond to those who have commented on her post to share their own experiences with losing loved ones to suicide or dealing with mental illness.
By coming forward as a voice for this issue, Henson has created a space for people to use their own voices to tell their stories.
We have seen it before, celebrities using their platforms and influence to bring awareness to issues that are near and dear to their hearts: Angelina Jolie and breast cancer, Miley Cyrus and youth homelessness, Blake Lively and child pornography, and now Taraji P Henson and mental illness.
Thankfully, every time a celebrity comes forward to step outside of their "lane" and use their star-power and reach as fuel for a movement, it works. Hopefully, Taraji P Henson's testimony will do the same, and, if the reaction to her Instagram post is any indication, then we are headed in the right direction.
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In 2020, as the world turned on its axis, we all held on for dear life. Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, and entrepreneurs all braced for a new normal, not sure what it would mean, what would come next, or if we should be excited or terrified.
At the same time that everything is shifting, being put on hold, or expanding, companies have to evaluate current talent needs, empower their teams to work from home, discover new ways to care for clients from a distance, and navigate new levels of uncertainty in this unfamiliar environment. Through it all, civilians are being encouraged to lean into concepts like "resilience" and "courage" and "commitment," sometimes for the first time.
Let's contrast what the business community is going through this year with the common experience of the military. During basic training, officer candidate school, multiple deployments, combat, and reintegration, veterans become well-versed in resilience, courage, and commitment to survive and thrive in completing their mission. Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.
These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.
More than ever before, today's employers who employ prior military should focus on why and how to retain them and leverage their talents, experience, and character traits to help lead the company — and the employees — to the other side of uncertainty.
What makes veterans valuable employees
Informed employers recognize that someone with a military background brings certain high-value assets into the civilian sector. Notably, veterans were taught, trained, and grounded in certain principles that make them uniquely valuable to their employers, particularly given the current business environment, including:
It's been said that the United States Armed Forces is the greatest leadership institution in the world. The practices, beliefs, values, and dedication of those who serve make them tested leaders even outside of the military. Given the opportunity to lead, a veteran will step forward and assume the role. Asked to respect and support leadership, they comply with that position as well. Leadership is in the veteran's blood and for a company that seeks employees with the confidence and commitment to lead if called upon, a veteran is the ideal choice.
The hope is that all employees are committed to their job and give 100% each day. For someone in the military, this is non-negotiable. The success of the mission, and the lives of everyone around them, depend on their commitment to stay the course and perform their job as trained. When the veteran employee takes on a project, it will be completed. When the veteran employee says there's an unsurmountable obstacle, it is so (not an excuse). When a veteran says they're "all in" on an initiative, they will see it through.
Strategy, planning, and improv
Every mission involves strategy, planning, and then improvisation from multiple individuals. On the battlefield, no plan works perfectly, and the service member's ability to flex, pivot, and adapt makes them valuable later, in the civilian sector. Imagine living in countries where you don't speak the language, working alongside troops who come from places you can't find on a map, and having to communicate what needs to get done to ensure everyone's safety. Veterans learned how to set goals, problem-solve challenges, and successfully get results.
With an all-volunteer military for decades now, every man and woman who wore our nation's uniform raised their hand to do so. They chose to serve their country, their fellow Americans, and their leaders. These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.
When companies seek out leaders who will commit to a bigger mission, can think strategically and creatively, and will serve others, they look to veterans.
Best practices in retention of veteran talent
Retention starts at hiring. The experience set out in the interview stage provides insight about how it will be to work and grow within the team at the company. For employers hiring veterans, this is a critical step.
Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent.
The veteran employee may have had a few — or several — jobs since leaving the military. Or this may be their first civilian work experience. In any case, setting expectations and being clear about goals is vital. Remember, veterans are trained to complete a mission and a goal. When an employer clarifies the mission and shows how the veteran employee's role supports and fulfills that mission, the employee can more confidently and successfully complete their work.
Additionally, regular check-ins are helpful with veteran employees. These employees may not be as comfortable asking for help or revealing their weaknesses. When the employer checks in regularly, and shows genuine interest in their happiness, sense of productivity, and overall job satisfaction, the veteran employee learns to be more comfortable asking for help when needed.
The military is a values-driven culture. Service members are instilled with values of loyalty, integrity, service, duty, and honor, to name a few. When they transition out of the military, veterans still seek a commitment to values in their employers. Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent. Make it clear what your values are, how you live and act on those values, and how the veteran's job will promote and support those values. Even work that is less glamorous can be attractive to a veteran if they understand the greater purpose and mission.
Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.
Finally, leveraging the strengths and goals of any employee is critical, and particularly so with veterans. If you have an employee who is passionate about service, show them ways to give back — through mentoring, community engagement, volunteerism, etc. If your veteran continues to seek leadership roles, find opportunities for them to contribute at higher levels, even informally. When your veteran employee offers to reframe the team's mission to gain better alignment across the sector, give them some runway to experiment. You have a workforce that is trained and passionate about and skilled in adapting and overcoming. Let them do what they do best.