Tennessee behavioral health leaders make historic request amid provider shortage

Mental health
Posted at 5:15 PM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 09:06:51-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It’s a problem Amy Sulam-Gibbs knows all too well.

“I finally got diagnosed, left the hospital, and they were basically like ‘OK you have to have a therapist, and a psychiatrist, good luck getting those,” said Sulam-Gibbs. “I felt like I had been thrown out into the wild. I had no idea how difficult it would be.”

She said the lack of mental health professionals in Tennessee was always an issue — throw in a pandemic, and now there's a crisis.

“Mental health is health care, and people should be able to quickly and confidently access care for their mental health needs," she said.

Rikki Harris, the CEO of Tennessee Voices — a statewide nonprofit mental health organization, said it’s an issue that’s been brewing in Tennessee since before the pandemic.

“I would describe our state in crisis right now,” she said.

That’s why she and other industry leaders formed the Public Behavioral Health Workforce Workgroup to retain and find more behavioral health care workers in the state.

To do so, the group is asking the governor for $59 million.

"We believe our budget proposal for this year will help us respond to the greater demonstrated need for services, reduce the gap of unmet need and provide unprecedented support for the public behavioral workforce," said Marie Williams, commissioner of Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, during a budget request presentation,

The budget proposal includes increased funding for more competitive wages, sign-on bonuses and pipeline opportunities for students like scholarships and internships.

The $59 million request is part of a larger $383 million request by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. It's the largest request the department has ever made and would mean a 20% increase in funding.

“This should tell you what the data is saying," Harris said. "This is an indication of how serious our problems are in Tennessee right now around mental health and mental health care.”

She doesn’t foresee the need for mental health professionals slowing down and without the extra funding, she worries the issue will only get worse.

You can find more information about TN Voices here, or call their helpline at 1-800-670-9882. Other resources include:

Tennessee Statewide Crisis Line: Available 24 hours a day/365 days a year is a free resource for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis. All calls are routed to a trained crisis counselor in your area, who will provide you support and guidance and work to connect you with appropriate community supports. Call 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471) or text "TN" to 741-741.

ResilienTN: ResilienTN is an initiative that works to prevent the loss of life to overdose and suicide by empowering Tennesseans with the tools and knowledge to overcome their personal challenges and watch out for and help those around them. The campaign includes training in overdose reversal and suicide prevention; events focused on addiction recovery efforts on college campuses, and suicide prevention among people living with substance use.

Tennessee REDLINE: TheTennessee REDLINE offers a convenient and confidential 24/7/365 resource for substance misuse treatment referrals. The service is provided by the Tennessee Association for Alcohol, Drug and other Addiction Services (TAADAS) through a contract with the TDMHSAS. Referrals are available by phone call or text at 800-889-9789.