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Morenike Murphy: Pulse of hope behind suicide, mental health in Tennessee is real

Morenike Murphy • Updated Oct 7, 2017 at 11:00 AM

In the face of depression, suicidal thoughts, desperations, delusions, unreasonable fears and addictions, what do we do? Thousands of residents ask this question every year. 

Getting turned away by caseworkers with full client lists, struggling to make long-distance appointments between work hours, hunting for resources that don’t exist and being forced to pay out of pocket for mental health services – most find themselves feeling hopeless and exhausted on their journeys to the right answers. I know, because I was one of them.

After endlessly searching for the right help, filling out loads of paperwork and juggling multiple service providers, I know what it is like to lose faith and see the system as broken, too expensive and just flat-out overwhelming. Ironically, I have also seen what most will never see – what it is like from the inside of the mental health system.

For 17 years now, I have worked within Tennessee’s mental health crisis system. Several years into my career, I found myself in need of some of the same services and supports for my son that I worked to connect with the families that I served.  Drained from shuffling advocacy, research and medications for his conditions, I stood in front of many desks of support and still felt helpless. It wasn’t until multiple trials and errors that I discovered what I believe is the answer to hope and recovery for those in need.

True collaboration has been the solution. Having the support of a system that collaborates with every service provider and support person in our state, is where breakthrough begins and hopelessness ends. The mental health crisis services system in Tennessee has adopted this collaborative model; connecting professionals, contracting 13 community-based agencies and building partnerships among emergency departments, the criminal justice system and various agencies within the state.

I see the passion in the eyes of our crisis teams, driven to care for our state’s most vulnerable population, while simultaneously seeing through the eyes of a passionate parent, driven to find answers and the best help for their loved one. As someone who once felt hopeless in this area, I can attest to the greatest answers to recovery being found with and within the collaborative nature of our state’s mental health crisis system.

It has become my life’s work, both professionally and personally, to connect hope to support and give life to those in need. It’s what we do here at the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Together, with 13 behavioral health providers, we have received more than 125,000 crisis phone calls and conducted more than 78,000 face-to-face crisis assessments just within our last fiscal year. Refusing to back down from some of the most challenging situations and environments, we continue to compassionately combat behavioral health crises.

Despite the troubling experiences many residents may have endured to find help for their loved ones or for themselves; I’m here to say the pulse of hope behind suicide and mental health care in Tennessee is demonstrated to be real, connected and available. Contact 1-855-274-7471 for help.

Morenike Murphy is director of the office of crisis services and suicide prevention services with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.


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