By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — The best kept secret in the United States is the new national crisis hotline number, 9-8-8. Designated in 2020 to operate nationwide, these three digits will connect a caller in any state and the five U.S. territories to the suicide and crisis lifeline that is available 24-hours a day. The number will receive voice calls, chats, and text messages. On the receiving side are trained crisis counselors ready to help individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, mental health crisis, and any type of emotional distress. 9-8-8 can also be accessed by people concerned a loved one may need crisis support. 

Right now, as the country is in a mental health crisis, the number is needed, and all citizens need to know it is available, especially given the shortage of counselors available around the country.

Mental health, suicide, and depression: Words that have for too long been the elephant in the room that no one talks about. The stigma and shame attached to the disease — for that is exactly what it is, a disease — keeps people of all ages, generations, and races from seeking help. The last few years of pandemic, housing and job loss, and even the increased use of social media has seen a rise in calls for help, and deaths in all age groups, especially the youth.

Along with the stigma keeping those in need from help is the fear of being judged if help is sought. According to the Centers for Disease Control, many fear public embarrassment and many feel they would be a burden to others, as there is a lack of insurance available and the cost for those with no health coverage is too high to even consider seeking help. Added to these barriers is the revelation that 27 percent of Americans say they don’t even know where to begin to ask for help or even who to call.

A CNN and Kiser National Survey held over the summer of 2022 reveals 90 percent of Americans believe the country is in a mental health crisis. Opioid misuse, loneliness, political state of the country, and finances lead the reasons for the anxiety and depression being experienced around the country. Another disturbing trend is the rising number of young people affected by these and other factors which has led to a rise in depression and suicide. Help is needed, yet there is a trickle and not a stream of availability.

An American Psychological Association report reveals the mental health needs of youth are not being addressed and many times children are misdiagnosed, as anxiety is being called gastro disorders and kids exhibiting mental issues are pushed towards medicines for ADHD; meanwhile the real problem goes unanswered for another decade. A CDC report from pre pandemic data revealed the most important concerns among youth are depression, substance abuse and suicide. Those concerns are manifesting in higher deaths as the 2022 American Health Rankings list suicides are the highest in the age group of 15 to 19. An article in the September 2022 edition of AARP magazine by Stephen Perrine speaks of clinicians across the country are reporting instances of kids self-harming are on the rise and he goes on to say the second leading cause of death among ages 10 to 18 is suicide.

The questions being asked around the country is what can be done? How do we stop this downward spiral?

While psychologists, offer pre-screening tests like SCARED and social phobia testing, there is a growing belief that children should be screened at a younger age – around 12 to 18 years old. There are also suggestions of use of a mixed-use approach: getting parents involved, telling their kids it’s okay to talk about their feelings, more involvement of teachers, and more funding on the state and federal level is needed.

In Tennessee there has been an 11 percent increase in suicide since 2015. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, in 2019 alone, there were 1220 deaths by suicide with a sharp rise among youth. That was pre pandemic.

In Knoxville, the community has decided face the crisis head on and to take a more direct approach, hence the play, You Are Worth It!!

On Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, the faith-based play about mental health and suicide prevention will be presented at Overcoming Believers Church 211 Harriet Tubman Drive in East Knoxville. Along with OBC, the other sponsors, VET to VET Tennessee and the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, the play, a mixture of music, comedy and drama, tells the story of struggle, altercations and different suicidal tendencies and action steps that can be taken.

The play is free. Appropriate for school age kids and young adults, youth organizations have been invited to bring their children to watch the play. There will be counselors available and everyone in the play has taken suicide prevention training.

Along with the above safety measures, there will also be licensed clinical therapist on site on both days and provider organizations will be on hand in case of triggers.

The site for free tickets is:

The CDC, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office have sounded the alarm:

We are in the middle of a mental health crisis for young people ages 10 and up.

We are at war.