Suicide rates reveal need for more access to mental health treatment

Throughout this series, a number of problems concerning access to mental health care in Anderson County have been laid out. It’s a nationwide problem that costs taxpayers a whole lot more than just money.

The end result of very few resources for mental health treatment is a yearly increase in suicides in Tennessee. Deaths by suicide hit a record high in 2016, and then hit it again every year since.

The National Suicide Prevention Network lists suicide as the second-highest leading cause of death for children ages 10-19 in Tennessee. It’s the ninth-leading cause overall.

There was a 54-percent increase in suicides in that age group between 2015-2017.

But the numbers are worse for those between the ages of 45-64, who are three times more likely to commit suicide than those aged 10-19.

Suicide is more common in some parts of Tennessee than others, according to the TSPN. Rural areas like Anderson County often lack mental health resources such as clinics, therapists, or hospitals with psychiatric units.

“Even when these resources exist, people may be reluctant to use them. If they live in small, close-knit communities, they may be afraid of being labeled or shunned by their relatives and neighbors,” read a report published by TSPN.

TSPN reports Blount County as one of the counties in the state with the highest number of suicides. Just Monday, the Maryville Times reported a murder-suicide between a father and his eight-year-old son.

The risk of suicide is 10-times higher among the homeless population, including children. And suicide is a leading-cause of death in jails; more so in local jails than state prisons, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

A few key points:

• Following the closure of Lakeshore Hospital in Knoxville and most long-term residential healthcare facilities across the nation, the jail and homeless population increased significantly.

• Access to mental healthcare is a challenge in rural areas due to a lack of transportation, insurance and finances.

• Jails often play the role of hospitals for those with severe mental disorders, with four out of 10 local inmates diagnosed with severe mental illnesses.

• Nearly 50-percent of the homeless population struggles with mental illness.

• Neither homeless shelters nor jails are set up for mental healthcare.

• Substance abuse and mental illness are often co-occurring, as people with mental illness try to self-medicate. This can be an attempt to numb the pain of traumatic events.

• Untreated mental illnesses contribute to the opioid epidemic.

• Leaders in local recovery groups suggest that a strong network of support is critical to healing from addiction.

Local recovery groups in Anderson County include:

• Renew Recovery, First Baptist Church, Clinton (865) 457-2593

• Rocky Top Recovery, Main Street Baptist Church, Rocky Top (865) 426-2184

• Celebrate Recovery, First Baptist Church, Jacksboro 423.562.5168

• Solutions Addiction Recovery Center, Clinton 865-242-3494

• Journey Pure (treatment center with resources), Norris 865-247-5196

Resources for mental health treatment:

• Ridgeview Behavioral Health, sliding fee scale to accommodate uninsured 865-482-1076

• Mobile crisis center, available 24/7 for those experiencing a mental health emergency: 855-274-7471

• Your primary care doctor can also refer patients to mental health treatment providers

• Safety Net TN for those below the poverty line: