Mental Health Challenges that Teens are Facing in Tennessee 

January 21, 2020 // Author: Kerry Keitzman

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 teenagers between 13 and 18 years old either experience or will have a mental health condition nationwide. About half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 years old. This is an incredibly sad reality in our society today because mental health affects us in almost every aspect of our lives. What’s worse, about 43% of teenagers who have a mental illness end up dropping out of school, which harms our youth even further.

In 2017, the percent of high schoolers, grades 9-12, who had reported being depressed for 2 or more weeks was 31%. Additionally, 16 percent of Tennessee high schoolers reported that they had suicidal thoughts, attempts, or related injuries. Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death in the state; three people day each day by suicide in Tennessee. These statistics are staggering and amplify the need to do better in protecting and supporting our kids. Thankfully, this is the mission of some local organizations.

Mental Health America of the MidSouth is an organization based in Nashville that has been around since 1946. Their goals are to raise awareness and provide services and tools. They connect the community to specialized mental health and wellness resources. They not only provide services that improve the quality of life, but also promote effective services where mental health needs are present. MHA has an Erasing the Stigma program that provides educational and interactive presentations for children and youth so that they can learn how to stop the stigma of mental health and develop healthy coping skills for other problems related to mental health and wellness such as, substance abuse, risky choices, self-esteem, depression, and stress.

However, due to health insurance disenrollment of children and youth in Tennessee, many teenagers do not receive the mental health care and resources that they need. Teenagers do not go to the doctor as often as young children do, so they end up falling through the cracks in the system. Add the topic of mental health to that and access to care becomes even harder. Ending the stigma is the first step; improving the system is the second. We all can help improve mental health by ensuring that teens maintain continuous health coverage and by sharing available resources.

If you know of a child or youth who has lost TennCare or CoverKids, call the Tennessee Justice Center at 615-255-0331.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bullying, or suicide ideation, please call these numbers:

Mental Health America of the MidSouth: 615-269-5355

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text “TN” to 741741 to connect to the Crisis Text Line.