KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The number of children in need of mental health counseling continues to grow to unprecedented levels across Tennessee, advocates said. Lawmakers have filed legislation to fund additional counselors in schools.
Roughly one in seven Tennessee parents said their children have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, up from one in 10 just two years prior, a Vanderbilt poll found.
A state report said in 2019, one in seven Tennessee high schoolers developed a plan to take their own lives. It was worse for sophomores: one in five developed such a plan, the report said.
Access to care remains an issue, said Kylie Graves, who works as a policy analyst for the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.
"More than half of children in Tennessee who have a diagnosis for a mental health condition aren’t getting the treatment that they’re needing," she said.
Many children find treatment at school — where they can access counselors without the challenge of a parent's work schedule or transportation issues.
"I think really expanding the access to mental health services in schools would be pivotal," Graves said. Currently, she said, only a fraction of Tennessee schools meet recommended student-counselor ratios.
Two Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would fund more counselors within the Basic Education Program (BEP). The bill would increase the funded ratio of counselors to one in 250 for most school districts.
Currently, Knox County Schools employs 160 counselors for its roughly 60,000 students — a ratio of about one counselor for every 375 students.
The bill has been sent to committees in the Tennessee House and Senate but is currently not scheduled for any votes.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7. You can call 1-800-273-8255. Other local resources are available here.