New report: Mental health resources in Knox County

More than 200,000 people living in Knox County are dealing with some sort of mental health issue, the report states. That’s roughly 40% of the county’s population.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — A new report from the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee highlights the lack of access to mental health resources in Knox County.

The report, created by the non-profit organization on behalf of Knox County, shows demand for mental health care has dramatically increased throughout the pandemic while access to care has decreased.

“The pandemic has certainly made things different because it’s driven more people to identify, number one, [that] they have a mental health treatment need and then to determine that they need to seek help,” CEO of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee Ben Harrington said.

More than 200,000 people living in Knox County are dealing with some sort of mental health issue, the report states. That’s roughly 40% of the county’s population.

More than half of people in the county who need help with their mental health aren’t getting it, according to the report.

“I’ve been here 28 years. I knew that there were access issues that folks faced, but I didn’t realize the breadth of access problems that we would identify,” Harrington said. “Our providers, while good, may not have enough clinical staff to be able to see people in a timely manner or as quickly on a follow-up visit as we would like.”

That’s partly due to a workforce shortage and high staff turnover throughout Knox County.

“It’s hard to recruit people into that sector and you’ve got more people seeking help. That’s a huge problem,” Harrington explained.

Another problem, he said, is the lack of resources available specifically for people of color.

“We don’t have enough Black mental health professionals. We don’t have enough folks that speak Spanish,” Harrington added. “A person of color might want a therapist or mental health professional of color so that they know that person understands exactly what they’ve experienced, may have experienced the same things themselves, or speaks the language that they speak.”

These challenges are not only impacting public care providers. According to the report, fewer than 10% of private practicing professionals in Knox County are taking new patients.

One of the solutions is working with and supporting organizations like the McNabb Center.

“In the past two years, we’ve seen double the amount of individuals trying to access care,” McNabb Center’s Director of Knox Adult Clinic and Anderson Outpatient Mental Health Services Jennifer Phillips said.

The McNabb Center, a non-profit organization with facilities across East Tennessee, offers a multitude of mental health resources for people of all ages and backgrounds.

“We have outpatient services for mental health, we have addiction services, victim services and we do some social services,” Phillips explained.

Last year, the organization helped around 37,000 people in East Tennessee.

“In the past two years, we’ve seen double the amount of individuals trying to access care,” Phillips added. “More people are experiencing increased depression, anxiety and stress.”

Phillips said she would like to see better access to community-based care to “meet people where they are out in the world” and more funding for therapists.

Along with more funding, developing a “talent recruitment pool” is listed in the report as one of the recommendations moving forward.

“We need to try to recruit people to the field and recruit people to choose Knox County, Knoxville, Tennessee over other communities,” Harrington said.

However, that’s only part of the solutions needed.

Hiring more Black and Spanish-speaking mental health professionals, funding a psychiatric emergency room and partnering with Knox County Schools to provide young people better access to care are all on the list.

“We know the problems. Now let’s work together to address some of these concerns,” Harrington said.

The report comes as Gov. Bill Lee pushes to budget $4 million for a new behavioral health urgent care center in North Knoxville.

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