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Tennessee tough, Tennessee strong, and Tennessee true

By COMMISSIONER MARIE WILLIAMS
I write to you at a time of great challenge for our state and local communities.  Countless individuals have contacted me to express feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we do not possess all the answers about the COVID-19 crisis, I am writing to offer suggestions that I hope will be instructive and empowering in the midst of such uncertainty. Pat Summitt, the acclaimed Lady Volunteers coach, would no doubt give us a legendary pep talk if alive today. That pep talk might start with a quote of hers: “Attitude is a choice. Think positive thoughts daily. Believe in yourself.”
What affects our attitude? Let’s start with the basics: food, water, air, rest, and shelter. Proper nutrition and hydration have never been more important. Take in some fresh air on a walk around your neighborhood. Do what you can to get a good night’s rest. Meditate on all the things we have to be grateful for at this time — our friends, family, loved ones and each other. Be mindful of neighbors who are not fortunate enough to have ready access to these basics.
What else influences our attitude? Human connection. Social distancing is a big disruptor to our normal modes of human connection. With schools and churches closed, and many folks working from home, you can fulfill that need by calling a friend, video chatting with a relative, or simply sitting in a lawn chair in your front yard and talking to neighbors as they walk by.
Information and understanding are huge influencers of attitude. Please consume enough news to stay responsibly informed, but make sure it doesn’t negatively affect your mental well-being. Turn to trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Governor Bill Lee’s office, and the Tennessee Department of Health to stay updated on the latest precautions and guidance. We have a wealth of information for mental healthcare consumers, families, and providers on a special page on our website: TN.gov/behavioral-health/covid19 Understanding what’s going on in your world can empower you to make the right decisions for you and your family and to become an active part of the response to this pandemic.
When it comes to mental health concerns that rise above the normal anxiety and stress, I encourage you to ask for help. It is OK to notfeelOK. You are not alone in this, and you need not suffer the burden of anxiety and fear by yourself. Choose the method that works best for you, whether it’s a long conversation with a trusted friend, accessing your employer’s Employee Assistance Program, talking to your pastor, or reaching out to a therapist. In Tennessee, we have a 24/7/365 phone line for mental health crisis: 855-274-7471. We also have a free talk or text line for referral to addiction treatment: 800-889-9789.
Our state has a comprehensive network of dedicated and resourceful community behavioral health providers who are rising to meet the unique challenges of our current situation. They offer safety net services to meet the needs of mental health and substance abuse needs of uninsured individuals who have no means to pay.  Thanks to new flexibility provided by Governor Lee and our federal partners, these providers are doing amazing things with telehealth to ensure that these essential services continue in a fashion that will reduce the risk to these vulnerable Tennesseans. And at our Regional Mental Health Institutes, we have an amazing team of professionals who are continuing to provide emergency psychiatric services to our state’s most vulnerable citizens. We are in constant contact with all of our resources to ensure that the mental health needs of our residents are being met. We are proud of the leadership of our Governor, Department of Health, General Assembly, and employees at all levels of government working to lead us through this crisis. We are also grateful for the strong community response of medical professionals and first responders and countless instances of neighbors helping neighbors, though we know we are the Volunteer State. In closing, here is another quote from Coach Summitt that sums up what it’s going to take to get through this: “Teamwork is what makes common people capable of uncommon results.” We areTennessee tough, Tennessee strong, and Tennessee true. May God continue to bless and keep us all.
(Marie Williams, LCSW, is Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services)