Alarming rise in teen suicide rates sheds light on mental health crisis in Tennessee

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. —

A new report is shedding light on the state mental health across the country.

And while it is suicide prevention month, a recent rise in death rates is drawing attention to youth here in Tennessee.

According to the Sycamore Institute Study, in 2021, nearly 1 in 4 Tennessee high schoolers seriously considered attempting suicide, more than 1 in 10 tried, and 39 adolescents 12-17 died from suicide.

13% of Tennessee high schoolers reported attempting suicide in 2021. That’s slightly higher than the national rate of 10%.

“I’m speaking as a mom. I have twin 11 year olds, and they have experienced this with their peers, they’ve come home saying, ‘Mommy, so and so was talking about suicide,'” says Eve Nite, Executive Director of CIT Connect.

“That’s a scary thing for anybody, child or adult, to even think about. Because when people have suicidal thoughts, they don’t even know why they have them,” says Dr. Lisa Pion-Berlin, CEO of Parents Anonymous.

But as shocking as those numbers may sound. Eve Nite with Chattanooga non-profit CIT Connect says the data is not completely accurate.

“Our mental health data is inherently sexist and racist. And so when you look at this data, I hope that you take it with a grain of salt, realizing that the true problem is far greater than our data is even suggesting,” says Nite.

Nite says it is resources for teens that make all the difference.

The Sycamore Institute found that access to school-based mental health personnel varies county to county in Tennessee, with Hamilton County far from the lead.

CIT Connect does training for law enforcement, first responders, and community agencies who might interact with someone who might be in a mental health crisis.

But it’s also about providing tools to parents who may not have all of the answers.

“We need to ask parents, ‘what do you need?’ ‘What do you want?’ ‘How can we help?’ Instead of deciding that for other people. Parents feel so blamed and shamed,” says Dr. Pion-Berlin.

Dr. Lisa Pion-Berlin is the CEO of Parents Anonymous, a nonprofit that provides free mental health services through support groups and its national multilingual helpline.

“Nationwide, we don’t have enough licensed clinicians, you’re gonna have to fight for your child,” says Nite.

If you’re struggling, remember you are NOT alone.

The national suicide and crisis lifeline is available by calling or texting 988.

There is also an online chatroom at 988lifeline.org.