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Tennessee boosts suicide prevention efforts, aims to curb stigma

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, and advocates say Tennessee has boosted efforts to improve access to mental health services in all of its 95 counties.

Earlier in 2019, Gov. Lee authorized a funding increase for the state’s Suicide Prevention Network to expand staff, as suicide deaths continue to rise among Tennesseans. The executive director of the Network, Scott Ridgeway, said in nearly all cases, suicide can be traced to undiagnosed or untreated depression, among other factors.

“Suicide is a very complex issue,” Ridgeway said. “No one dies for one reason. It’s usually a combination of a lot of different reasons. And that, we sometimes just do not know what that person is going through.”

On average, three Tennesseans choose to end their lives each day, and suicide now surpasses car accidents as a leading cause of death in the state.

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Ridgeway pointed out that depression and suicide affect people regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status. He said he believes the state’s efforts are helping save lives.

“We do believe that people are reaching out for help,” he said. “The most recent preliminary data that came in from 2018 is that over 125 Tennesseans reached out to to crisis services to get some help.”

In 2018, advocates launched the Tennessee Farmers Suicide Prevention Task Force, which partners with the state Department of Agriculture to address suicide among farmers, who are at particularly high risk. Ridgeway said reducing stigma around seeking help for mental health issues among farmers is a first step.

“And so, being able to change the language, and being able to change how people respond to others, I think we can make a major difference,” he said.

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According to the latest Status of Suicide report, the largest increase in suicides has occurred among Tennessee’s teenagers.

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