Suicide is now the ninth leading cause of death in Tennessee, and, according to Gov. Bill Lee, the rate of suicide in the state is 20 percent higher than the national average.
Lee this week announced three priorities to increase access to mental health treatment and expand suicide prevention efforts across the state.
“The mental health of our citizens is foundational to all other goals we seek to accomplish in education, job growth and public safety,” Lee said in a press release announcing the initiative. “By prioritizing our mental health safety net and suicide prevention, we are caring for more Tennesseans and building healthier communities.”
Lee is proposing $11.2 million in new funding to expand access to services for Tennesseans living with serious mental illness. This investment seeks to cover an additional 7,000 uninsured Tennessee adults through the state’s Behavioral Health Safety Net program, which provides several essential mental health services. Additionally, the investment addresses increasing costs at the state’s four regional mental health institutes and ensures that those facilities will continue to provide high quality care to Tennesseans with the most significant psychiatric needs.
The proposal was praised by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.
“The Governor’s comprehensive and inclusive multi-prong approach assures sustainability of various programs and services proposed for citizens in dire need of assistance to live out their lives,” the nonprofit declared in a press release.
To complement Tennessee’s work in recovery courts and alternative sentencing measures, Gov. Lee is also proposing a $3 million investment to the Creating Homes Initiative. Since 2000, the program has created more than 20,000 quality, permanent housing opportunities for those living with mental illness. This new investment will expand recovery housing options for Tennesseans struggling with substance abuse.
“In addition to measures that address substance abuse and mental illness, we are tackling Tennessee’s shockingly high suicide rate that is now 20 percent higher than the national average,” said Lee. “There is tremendous opportunity to engage public-private partnerships as we work to prevent suicide and save lives.”
Lee is proposing a $1.1 million investment that will expand the state’s partnership with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network to establish a new regional outreach model and increase the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ efforts to focus on interventions at the community level using evidence-based practices.
According to the TSPN, three Tennesseans lose their lives each day to suicide. The group reported that in 2017, there were 142 youth deaths by suicide, representing the 10-24 age group, with 51 of these representing children between the ages of 10 and 17. Suicide by children increased by 24.4 percent from 2016 to 2017; and more alarmingly, suicide by children increased by 54.5 percent from 2015 to 2017. The Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Health Statistics reports there were 1,163 recorded suicide deaths in Tennessee in 2017, up from 1,110 the previous year.