White House advisers visit Memphis for mental health roundtable

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 5:36 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Mental health officials said getting out of the pandemic won’t just help the community’s physical health, but it’s likely to help its emotional health too.

A group of White House officials is touring the country to learn how the pandemic’s mental health effects have been felt in different cities.

Tuesday, that group was in Memphis.

During the pandemic, Memphis has seen violent crime, overdoses, and even heart attacks increase. All have connections with growing mental health problems, made worse by the pandemic, and city leaders say they need the federal government’s help.

“It’s just been a stressful year and a half and we all feel it,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.

To figure out solutions to a growing mental health problem, the White House has sent out a group, consisting of advisors from the Department of Justice to the Department of Education to learn what communities need to fight it.

“Recurring dollars. That’s what we need,” Strickland said.

The group has been visiting cities since the summer and was in Arkansas before coming to Memphis to talk about mental health Tuesday.

Strickland says calls to mental health professionals in the city have tripled since the pandemic began.

“The providers said the dollars they get reimbursed to treat those with mental illness have not gone up in almost 10 years,” Strickland said.

The Department of Justice says mental health plays a role in the increase in violent crime the whole country has seen. In Memphis, murders have gone up 14 percent year over year and are up 38 percent from 2016.

The Department of Education also recognizes mental health issues in children. Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital reports the emergency room has seen 334 suicide prevention encounters so far this year. That number in all of 2020 was 251 and in 2019 it was 214.

“It’s been clear from the beginning, the president has been adamant about it. There is no success in this pandemic without equity and to make sure all individuals and all communities have the opportunity to not just survive but thrive through this pandemic and it’s in that spirit we started these community visits,” said Dr. Cameron Webb, White House senior advisor for COVID-19 equity.

The group says one of the reasons Memphis was a stop on the tour is because of our slow-moving vaccination rate.

Now, 47 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“We recognize that vaccination effort is also a path for us to reduce some of the strain we have on our community resources and face the challenges currently exacerbated,” Webb said.

If you’re in Memphis and need mental health support now, you can dial 211 and it will bring you to the Library Information Center. You can also click here.

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