What do Gary Sinise, Taraji Henson, and Jennette McCurdy all have in common? Aside from being tremendously successful Hollywood stars, they have all taken it upon themselves to shine a light on mental health awareness.
Celebrities who use their platform to speak out about their struggles have become more common over the last few years, with stars such as Kristen Bell, Prince Harry, and Simone Biles all being more transparent about their mental health battles. Although our society has opened up and accepted the importance of mental health more now than ever, we still have strides to make. Amplifying these three celebrities’ stories will be a big push forward in normalizing mental health.
The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network
Known for his Academy Award-nominated performance as Lieutenant Dan in the film Forrest Gump, Sinise is an ardent and vocal supporter of mental health, particularly veterans and first responders. In 2011 he partnered with Home Depot founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank and launched The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network. The foundation’s mission is to produce a mental and cognitive health network that provides care for veterans, first responders, and their families battling post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, and severe brain injuries.
Despite the foundation’s launch a decade ago, Sinise has been fighting for veteran’s mental health rights for over forty years. Since the 1980s, Sinise has supported Vietnam veterans in Chicago and worked for the Disabled American Veterans organization. After the attacks on September 11th, 2001, Sinise became even more dedicated to helping those who fight and defend our nation’s freedom. Then in 2011, Sinise created the Lt. Dan Band and performed 238 benefit concerts for veterans. At the same time, his foundation has served just shy of half a million meals to veterans and first responders in the United States.
The more Sinise dedicated himself to this pledge, the more he began getting recognized. His dedication to our veterans and first responder’s mental health has gained him a bevy of awards. These include the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Patriot Award and The Bob Hope Award for Excellence in Entertainment. In 2008, Sinise received the nation’s second-highest civilian award, the Presidential Citizens Medal.
Taraji P. Henson’s Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation
Golden Globe-winning actress Taraji P. Henson (Empire, Hidden Figures, Person of Interest) advocates for mental health awareness on numerous fronts. Henson suffered from anxiety as a child while also having a father who had a mental illness. Henson used this lifetime of experience to draw on as she pushes to give a voice to those struggling with mental health.
Henson founded the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in 2018 to change the perception of mental health within the Black community. Understanding the ingrained belief within the community that if you suffer from a mental health illness that you can work through it on your own, Henson wanted to reverse that thinking and encourage people to get professional help through the foundation’s website. Since its inception, and with new stressors caused by COVID-19, unemployment, and social tragedies such as George Floyd’s death, the foundation has reported that their numbers have increased tremendously.
At the end of 2020, Henson took her work a step further by teaming up with Tracie Jade in creating Peace of Mind with Taraji on Facebook. Peace of Mind aims to educate the public on mental health while ending the stigma which is attached. Henson and Jade were a natural fit for the show, as Jade witnessed Henson’s anxiety when they were kids, only for herself to be later diagnosed with anxiety and depression as an adult. By bringing other celebrities, licensed therapists, and everyday people whose lives have been affected by mental health onto the show, Henson hopes to remove both the fear of acknowledging that you’re suffering from an illness, as well as the uncertainty of getting help.
Jennette McCurdy on the Empty Inside Podcast
Best known for her role as Sam Puckett on the Nickelodeon smash-hit iCarly, McCurdy finally had reached her limit. After battling multiple eating disorders for most of her life brought on by the pressures of remaining successful in Hollywood, McCurdy walked away from the part of the industry that she believes was so destructive. Looking back on everything she experienced, McCurdy is now a reliable open voice concerning her history with anorexia and bulimia.
When McCurdy was six years old, her mom got Jeanette involved as a child actress in the entertainment industry. Four years later, McCurdy began to understand that one of the most significant motivating factors behind her success was that she was the family’s primary financial support system. McCurdy realized that to continue booking roles as a younger girl; she would need to maintain her youthful appearance. By the age of twelve and without anyone there to help her, McCurdy was anorexic.
Enabled by those in the industry, as well as her mom, McCurdy’s struggles continued. When she was 21and trying to remain thin, her anorexia transformed into bulimia. But history repeated itself because no one was there to help. Instead, agents, producers, and entire wardrobe departments celebrated her slender size. It wasn’t until years later, after being confronted by her sister-in-law, seeing a therapist multiple times a week, and then accepting treatment from an eating disorder specialist, that McCurdy finally began to recover from her illness.
After McCurdy’s mom passed away, she walked away from acting for the time being. She knew that her life as an actress was her mother’s dream, and she needed to live for herself. She was interested in writing and directing and started her podcast, Empty Inside, where she and her guests do a deep dive into one specific topic per episode. It is there McCurdy has not shied away from confronting her struggles with mental health. Though McCurdy seemingly retired from acting, the one acting gig she did take was for a role she created in the one-woman show; I’m Glad My Mom Died.
Mental health deserves attention. We as a society are more resilient when we can acknowledge our struggles and seek help for them, but that’s easier said than done. Sometimes, we seek encouragement from individuals we idolize. Whether it is a celebrity like Gary Sinise, Taraji P. Henson, Jennette McCurdy, or a family member, having someone there for support can help when facing the battle of mental health. If you know anyone struggling with a mental or behavioral illness, don’t be afraid to be the hand that leads them to the help they need. Contact Mission Harbor today.