KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — The Mental Health Association of East Tennessee said that around 42% of people in Knox County have documented mental health issues — around two out of every five people.
Around the holidays, those mental health issues can become more intense. They may cause people to remember painful memories, or they can make people more anxious about subjects such as family dynamics, career aspirations or finances.
For many people in the area, the holidays can also remind them of loved ones they have lost.
"My daughter, Sasha McElveen, took her own life in 2019 in her dorm room," said Monica Gouffon, her mother. "She was a very small, short person. But her personality was just so big."
Experts said that if there is more representation of mental health issues in media or among social groups, people may end up getting help with their mental health. They said it can help destigmatize issues surrounding mental health.
Otherwise, the stigma can prevent people from reaching out for help.
"Did I miss something? Did I miss a moment or an opportunity? Was she trying to tell me something? It's really difficult, just kind of torturing myself with it. It's just so hard," said Gouffon.
The National Association for Mental Illness said that 64% of people with a mental health diagnosis felt their conditions worsened during the holidays.
"It's okay to talk about it. It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to sit out on holiday traditions that may be triggering to you," said Julius Jefferies, a therapist in Knoxville. "Those days will come again, and you can celebrate Christmas any day you want to, as long as you feel safe and supported and you don't feel like you're putting your mental health at risk."
Anyone struggling with their mental health can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 988. There, they will be connected with someone who wants to talk with them about anything on their minds.
Tennessee has seen a 21% increase in calls since the three-digit number launched over the summer.
"There is hope, there's help. Reach out. If you find yourself in a place where you know you're having thoughts of suicide, or maybe struggling at any given day, just know that there is hope. There is help," said Tanya Carter, a 988 Lifeline supervisor.
People can also find a list of mental health resources online. And if a person calls 988 and doesn't get an immediate answer, officials there said texting can connect them with someone faster.