Mental Health Month Offers New Opportunity to be Open and Honest

Op-ed for Mental Health Month Submitted by Commissioner Marie Williams
Tuesday, May 11, 2021 | 11:19am

Around the world and right here in Tennessee, we celebrate May as Mental Health Month.  After the last year, the opportunity to pause, reflect, and evaluate our own mental health and that of the people in our lives has never been more important.

“How are you doing today?”  It’s a question we asked each other multiple times a day that’s taken on new meaning over the last year.  Prior to the pandemic, you probably brushed it off with a “Great! How are you?” when really you weren’t “great.”  The collective experience of the last year has shown us is that it’s essential to take an honest look at how you’re feeling and share that with those around you.

Throughout the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau has monitored many aspects of the crisis including self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Throughout 2020, between 30 and 40 percent of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, and in Tennessee the numbers were similar.  The rate has gone down slightly in the last few months, but it’s still at 35 percent.  Compare that to 20 percent in a normal year, and you’ll quickly see the emotional impact of the last year.  The biggest barrier to better mental health is often the stigma of taking that first step.

So, what can you do to get help for yourself or a loved one?

First off, if you are experiencing a mental health crisis or thoughts of suicide, please call our Statewide Crisis Line at 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).  The trained counselors who answer this line can talk through what you are feeling and refer you to the right level of care.  Tennessee is blessed to have mobile crisis services for both adults and children available in every county.

If you need to talk to someone about feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms related to COVID mental health concerns, there’s a network of agencies across the state that have set up COVID-19 Crisis Counseling hotlines.  Click this link, and find the contact information for your local agency.

If you’re a healthcare worker, first responder, or you work in education and you need to talk to someone, you can make a free and confidential call or text to the Emotional Support Line for Pandemic Stress at 888-642-7886.

If you’re not currently experiencing a mental health crisis but you have mental health concerns, another great first step is to talk to your primary care doctor.  Let the doctor know how you’re feeling, how long it’s been going on, and you can discuss next steps. 

If you don’t have insurance, Tennessee has a wealth of resources to provide mental health supports.  The Behavioral Health Safety Net provides essential mental health services to uninsured adults who have no other way to pay and to all uninsured children and some insured children who don’t have full behavioral health coverage through our strong community behavioral health providers.  Thanks to Governor Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly, the Behavioral Health Safety Net for adults has been greatly expanded, and the Behavioral Health Safety Net for children was newly created in the current fiscal year.  Governor Lee and the legislature also gave us funding in the current fiscal year to put one School-Based Behavioral Health Liaison in every county.

Looking ahead to next fiscal year beginning July 1, Governor Lee and the legislature are investing $6.5 million in additional mental health supports for children, and they are setting up a $250 million trust fund for mental health services that will impact children for generations to come.

So, the next time someone asks, “How are you doing?” think about your honest answer and embrace the conversation that ensues when you ask how they’re feeling.  You might be surprised what you learn.