Tennessee Celebrates National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week

Tuesday, May 02, 2017 | 1:39pm

A Message from Commissioner Marie Williams

During the first week of May, communities across Tennessee are coming together to celebrate the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. The purpose of this week is to highlight the importance of children’s mental health and to increase awareness around evidence-based practices and strategies that support a healthy mind. In Tennessee, we are extremely fortunate to have a dedicated network of community mental health centers that help children affected by mental health develop the resiliency they need to thrive.

Walt Disney is often quoted as saying, “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.”  Here in The Volunteer State, we are blessed with approximately 1.5 million young minds. However, among our children we must recognize that many will face adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), each of which have a direct impact on their brain development.  Traumatic events such as abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, and parental incarceration poses a greater risk to numerous health, social, and behavioral problems. Of these problems, the most common are mental health conditions. 

Statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that approximately 20% of children and youth live with a mental health condition. These include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.  Moreover, 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Simply put, the sooner we engage our children, the better we can mitigate the negative effects of ACEs, particularly their future mental health needs.

For 2017, Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week will spotlight the importance of integrating behavioral health and primary care for children, youth, and young adults with mental disorders.  As we continue to study more about the reciprocal relationship between physical health and mental health, communities in Tennessee are learning how to combine medical and behavioral services to address the whole child, not just one aspect of their condition.  For children with mental health needs, integrated care means a more cohesive, coordinated service delivery system. By training medical teams, such as primary care providers, in behavioral health as well as promoting the use of co-located services, we are ensuring children have greater access to care.

Beyond efforts to integrate behavioral health and primary care, the state of Tennessee is making additional strides in expanding school-based mental health services, taking our services to where children are. There are also exciting advances being made to expand early childhood mental health services for children from birth to 5 years of age, many of which are being led by the Association of Infant Mental Health in Tennessee. 

One initiative being led by our Department, in partnership with the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, is System of Care Across Tennessee. Building on 17 years’ experience in creating local systems of care, this new program will hopefully be a game changer. Supported by a 4-year, $12 million dollar SAMHSA grant, this state-wide initiative will create local interagency planning teams, coordinate the care of children with serious emotional disturbances through wraparound services, and most notably, serve children with mental health needs where they can best be served, in their community.

For this year’s Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I would encourage you to assess how you can get involved to support healthy and strong minds among our state’s greatest natural resource. Lending your voice to Tennessee’s Council on Children’s Mental Health or connecting with the state’s federation of families for children’s mental health chapters, such as Tennessee Voices for Children, are just two examples.

As Commissioner for the state’s behavioral health authority, I am reminded each and every day how important mental health promotion and early intervention is. The more we educate and the sooner we can identify, intervene, and support children with mental health needs, the better we can ensure a life of resiliency, hope, and promise.

Kindest regards,
Marie Williams, Commissioner

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Our Mission: Provide, plan for, and promote a comprehensive array of quality prevention, early intervention, treatment, habilitation, rehabilitation and recovery support services for Tennesseans with mental illness and substance abuse issues.  Our Vision: To be one of the nation's most innovative and proactive state behavioral health authorities for Tennesseans dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems. For more information, visit: http://tn.gov/behavioral-health/.

Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services