The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network will more than double in size thanks to a budget bump from state government. Governor Bill Lee directed an additional $625,000 in recurring money to the nonprofit as part of a broader effort aimed at improving mental health.
The agency has been forced to spread its on-the-ground prevention efforts thinly to cover all 95 counties in Tennessee. Just three directors, plus support staff, have handled everything from manning a display at a strawberry festival to passing out gun-safety materials at a firing range.
The new money will allow the organization to hire another six directors, says executive director Scott Ridgway, giving each less ground to cover.
"So less territory, less counties, more productivity, more outcomes," he says, "and we really believe that we can make a difference."
The outreach directors also put literature in emergency rooms and train groups in how to spot suicidal behavior and respond.
Suicide has increased every year in Tennessee since at least 2014 and more than doubled since the early 1980s. Tennessee is also well above the national rate, with more than three deaths per day on average.
The biggest increase, according to the 2019 annual report, has been among teenagers. The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network's additional outreach directors plan to coordinate more closely with schools when they experience a death.
"We need to make sure they're using evidence-based practices to work with those students to provide some type of debriefing," Ridgway says.
He says the network's services can help schools prevent copycat suicides and get schools back to a normal routine.