Mental Health Month 2022: Overcoming Isolation and Finding Connection

Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | 03:53pm

For your consideration, please find the following op-ed from Marie Williams, LCSW, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.  A high-resolution headshot of Ms. Williams is available at this link.

“We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness.”  As I recently read those words about one of the best singer-songwriters in my lifetime, I was struck by how many people are struggling with untreated mental illness across our great state and how many families have experienced a similar tragic loss of life.  A loss that in many cases might have been prevented if they knew about the mental health supports that are available.  Supports that I would like to focus on for this Month of Mental Health Awareness.  

Tennessee’s first line of mental health services is our Statewide Crisis Line – 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).  As states across the nation work to standardize, unify, and expand their crisis services offerings to get ready for the rollout of 988 this summer, Tennessee is already well-positioned to respond in a crisis.  We have statewide mobile crisis services available for adults and children.  This means you don’t need to call 911 or go to the emergency room.  You can simply call our Statewide Crisis Line and talk to a trained professional who can connect you with the appropriate level of care.

Tennessee’s Behavioral Health Safety Net (BHSN) offers essential mental health services to uninsured adults who have no other way to pay.  Each year, this program serves about 40,000 adults who otherwise would likely go untreated.  The BHSN for children covers services for kids who are uninsured, those who have coverage but have used it up, and those whose insurance doesn’t cover behavioral health services. 

Tennessee has several amazing providers who are saving lives every day through their suicide prevention work.  Our department is blessed to have funding to support the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, the Jason Foundation, and Mental Health America of the MidSouth and of East Tennessee.  These agencies outreach to youth, provide trainings at schools and community groups, and offer simple tools to measure risk and connect with help.

These are just a few of foundational programs to support the mental health of Tennesseans, and the good news is that our state’s leaders continue to make additional investments.  Thanks to the support of Governor Bill Lee and the members of the Tennessee General Assembly, we’re adding new funding in the coming year totaling more than $360 million.  That includes nearly $18 million to help our providers recruit and retain staff, $35 million to build new community-based mental health options to keep people out of emergency departments or jail, $5.6 million to make a landmark investment in mental health courts across our state, and funding to replace our 61-year-old mental health hospital in Chattanooga.

If you don’t know where to start with mental health, start with a screening.  Mental Health America is a wonderful group with affiliates in Tennessee who do life changing work.  They have simple, fast screenings on their website at  The screenings are easy to share with family, friends, and coworkers, and they can be the start of a conversation about connecting to supports and additional resources if needed.

These services and supports are available no matter who you are or where you live. They are available no matter your ability to pay and even if you don’t have insurance.  They are available because of a governor and legislature that believe in the power of treatment which allows all of us to fully enlist our God-given talents and abilities.  They are there because of a network of mental health providers across our state who spend each and every day caring for more than 300,000 Tennesseans that come to them for help, hope, and recovery.