KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Leaders from Knox County and the East Tennessee Mental Health Association have announced a new strategic partnership Thursday at the Lakeshore Park Overlook. The site was specifically chosen to host the announcement because of its history – it’s where the state’s first mental health facility once stood; it opened in 1886 and operated until 2012.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs joined members of the Knox County Commission and local mental health partners to announce the new partnership; which the county says will help legislative leaders, health providers and key stakeholders in order to “better understand the landscape of mental health in our community.”

County Commissioner Larsen Jay said Thursday the origin of the partnership began some time ago. Leaders and mental health groups recently held a workshop on how to streamline services in the community. The project between the county and the mental health coalition will focus on data, services and areas to improve accessibility.

The partnership will produce an annual report to examine the scope of the community’s needs in the area of mental health. The report will show the needs beyond the health department’s community health assessment; specifically focusing on mental health in a way that has not been done before, according to county leaders, and the findings will guide leaders in decision making and planning in the future.

“This is just one piece of that puzzle we can put together,” Jay said.

Mayor Jacobs said leaders and community members need to always keep striving to become better: “Like many areas of the country, one of the areas that needs improvement, here, is the overall mental health of the individuals in our community,” he said. “If nothing else, we need to put a spotlight on the importance of mental health if we are to truly be the vibrant and engaging community that we strive to be.”

Jacobs went on to say it’s no coincidence the announcement occurred during Suicide Prevention Month and at a place where the state’s first mental health institute opened back in 1886 and operated for 127 years. Jacobs said the facility’s closure in 2012 “left Knox County and the region at a deficit of beds to support mental health patients in need of care.”

Knoxville city leaders including Mayor Indya Kincannon and city councilwoman Seema Singh attended the briefing as well.

September is Suicide Prevention Month. An average of 130 Americans die by suicide daily. Suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Tennessee and the 10th cause in Knox County.

Ben Harrington, the CEO of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee said Thursday the partnership will create a better system focused on mental health support.

Harrington said earlier this month the pandemic has had a terrible impact on mental health. During the pandemic, he says mental health prevalence doubled during the pandemic from one in five people to two in five people.

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