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Poor mental health is not just an issue that affects adults–in fact, rising rates of mental illness explicitly affecting youth have been seen in past years. This fact is proven not just in the United States but in Tennessee especially.

According to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Deputy Commissioner, there has been a significant uptick in mental illness among children in Tennessee. 

This children’s mental health crisis is a pressing issue, yet data shows that over half of Tennessee youth with cognitive and behavioral health conditions do not receive mental health services.

The suicide rate in Tennessee is 29% higher than the national average, with Tennessee youth experiencing the highest rates for both self-harm injury and suicidal ideation. Despite this, many suicide prevention methods do not emphasize prevention for children specifically.

Although Tennessee offers 13 mobile crisis teams and 8 crisis walk-in centers across the state, only one exists to target children under 18, and no crisis stabilization units exist. Tennessee has certainly improved crisis infrastructure to combat suicidality and mental health issues in general, but more can be done to help the state’s youth.

Youth Mental Health Statistics

Mental illness is a prevalent issue in Tennessee youth, with data showing a growing number of adolescents reporting poor mental health, symptoms of depression, and attempting suicide. These worrying statistics highlight the need for improved mental health initiatives throughout Tennessee.

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2019, 8.9% of Tennessee high school students reported attempting suicide in the prior 12 months. Meanwhile, the survey also showed that about 1 in 5 high school students in Tennessee seriously considered taking their lives.

The National Survey of Children’s Health reported that in 2020, 10% of Tennessee children ages 3-17 were diagnosed with either anxiety or depression, which increased to 16% in 2021. The 2023 Vanderbilt Child Health Poll found that roughly 29% of Tennessee parents are concerned their child has undiagnosed anxiety or depression.

In 2021, 29% of Tennessee high school students reported experiencing poor mental health in the past month, while over 40% had symptoms of depression in the prior year. In this same year, nearly 1 in 4 Tennessee high schoolers seriously considered suicide, and more than 1 in 10 attempted suicide.

In addition, almost twice as many Tennessee youth died by suicide in the last 10 years than the decade prior. These numbers reveal that the children’s mental health crisis in Tennessee has been steadily worsening. 

In 2020, the Child Fatality Review showed that 38 Tennessee children under age 18 died by suicide, with 12 suicide deaths claiming victims in the age range of 10-14. This accounted for 5% of all child fatalities within that year.

The 2021 Tennessee Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that girls are much more likely to report struggling with mental health and suicidal thoughts, but boys have significantly higher suicide death rates.

Both the number and rate of suicide deaths among 12 to 17-year-old Tennesseans were at some of their highest levels in 2021. While youth suicide death rates were about the same as the national rate, 13% of Tennessee high schoolers reported attempting suicide in 2021 — compared to 10% nationally. 

Yet, even with these spiking numbers, national data showed that about 51% of children 3-17 with a diagnosed mental or behavioral condition in Tennessee did not receive treatment or counseling — the 16th highest rate in the country. As a whole, Tennessee ranks 40th in the US for mental healthcare access.

children’s mental health crisis

How Tennessee is Fighting the Issue

The state of Tennessee has been taking suicide prevention measures to help children for over a decade, with the passing of the Jason Flatt Act in 2007 making annual suicide awareness and prevention training mandatory for all individuals who work in a school setting.

To combat the children’s mental health crisis within Tennessee, the state has taken new initiatives to provide greater access to mental health care and facilitate increased suicide prevention education.

The General Assembly has increased the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services funding. This funding has helped provide bonuses to about 4,000 mental health providers across the state, requiring these individuals to commit more time to their agency.

The department has also received funding to cover the cost of tuition for those pursuing graduate degrees in behavioral health as long as these individuals spend a period working for a community mental health provider. 

The department has invested time to ensure that mental health services are more widely available, partnering with the University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis to go into high schools and educate students about careers in behavioral health.

They have also committed to offering at least one behavioral health specialist in every school, more hospital specialists, and to increase access in rural communities. This initiative includes putting Family Support Specialists in children’s hospitals for parents with lived experience dealing with mental health issues with their children.

This department isn’t the only method Tennessee uses to increase children’s access to mental health care. In 2021, state lawmakers approved a $217 million increase in safety net funding to serve Tennessee children needing mental health care without insurance. 

The Helen Ross McNabb Center, a mental and behavioral health center with locations throughout Tennessee, has partnered with Knox County Schools to give students additional support. In 2022, the center received a $1.1 million grant to create three crisis response teams for children in the area.

Several statewide programs aim to reduce the number of children and youth impacted by suicide in Tennessee. This includes Youth and Young Adult Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness. This program partners with pediatric offices to promote better mental health among Tennesseans up to 25.

Another program is the Tennessee Lives Count-Connect 2 (TLC-Connect2), a program that seeks to reduce suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicide deaths among children and youth aged 10-24 through early intervention strategies, risk screening/assessment, and enhanced follow-up practices.

Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education) is another statewide program that aims to promote resilience and positive behavioral functioning among school-age youth and expand youth access to mental health resources. 

Children’s Mental Health Crisis Resources

Various resources exist to help children overcome mental health crises and prevent suicidal behaviors, as well as general mental health and suicide prevention resources for all ages. These include both national and state-specific resources.

  • 988 LifeLine: This national suicide and crisis lifeline provides 24/7 free and confidential support for individuals facing distress.
  • Tennessee Statewide Crisis Phone Line: Call (855) 274-7471 if you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal ideation.
  • Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services Helpline: Call (800) 560-5767 for help finding mental health resources in your area.
  • TN Voices: Find resources online or call the Tennessee Statewide Family Support Network at (800) 670-9882 for your child’s family support and mental health services.
  • KidCentral TN: This statewide organization offers a variety of education and resources, including mental health resources and crisis services for children.
  • NAMI TN: Call (800) 467-3589 or text NAMI to 741741 for crisis services. Their website also offers additional education and resources.
  • SAMHSA: This government organization provides help finding mental health treatment nationwide. Call (800) 662-4357 to access 24/7 free and confidential treatment referral services.

Seek Mental Health Treatment

If you or a loved one has fallen victim to the mental health crisis facing Tennessee, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Help is out there, and TRUE Addiction & Behavioral Health is here to guide individuals toward overcoming mental illness.

Don’t let yourself or someone you care about become just another statistic. Our facility promotes overall healing through caring and innovative treatment and can put you on the path to wellness. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline at (615) 802-6460 or contact