Tennessee's Commissioner said community based mental health services may be the best way to fill gaps in services across the state.
E. Douglas Varney said in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut many are asking the mental health industry to find ways to improve treatment and provide services to areas that are under served.
"Everyone is looking at many levels at public policy, funding issues and all those kinds of things but the real answer in my opinion lies in a more fundamental approach," he said. "It is not an easy answer but one of the best ones is to really educating people to recognize the signs of someone who has proclivities of violence and then let the persons closest to them deal with them in terms of getting health care."
Tennessee treats around 250,000 people annually, but the number of people needing treatment could be much higher. He said the stigma surrounding mental illness keeps many from seeking help.
According to the department about half of mental disorders begin before the age of 14 with about 20% of the world's children and teens dealing with a mental disorder.
"People have to have the courage to reach out to that person before one of these events happen," Varney said. "We have a huge unmet need not just in Tennessee but across the country about resources surrounding mental health needs."
The state is addressing some of the unmet need with the help of a four-year $4 million grant to implement a comprehensive strategic plan for a statewide system of care.
Tennessee is one of 15 states to win the competitive grant.
The lack of mental health resources statewide is a problem Centerstone counselors see as they work with various schools across Middle Tennessee.
Centerstone is a non-profit organization that provides counseling and helps with substance abuse to more than 75,000 children, teens, adults, seniors and their families.
The organization provides outreach in more than 150 schools and communities.
"You have counties were children and families have to drive two and three counties over to receive services," Program Manager Marcy Melvin said. "There are lots of gaps in services when you talk about the needs of children being met. You have children who are uninsured and under insured."
Melvin said parents can be vital in recognizing problematic behaviors in their children. She said it can help to compare their behaviors to other children their age.
"If there are behaviors you are concerned about whether its diet like them eating to much or not enough or having trouble sleeping," she said, "whenever there is any kind of difference or variation then you definitely want to seek out some additional resources."
She also said the stigma surrounding seeking mental health help can hinder parents from intervening early and being able to prevent a worsening condition later in life.
"If you had a child that had a really bad sinus infection or a cold the parent would take them in to get the treatment they needed in order to get healthy," Melvin said. "You have to think of mental health in the same terms."
She continued, "We want our children to be mentally healthy and to do that we sometimes have to get additional help or resources."
Tennessee has a 24-hour crisis line for those who need help or may know someone who needs help.
The number for the adult crisis line is 1-855-CRISIS-1.
There is also a number for youth crisis help. For the Nashville region the number is 1-866-791-9221.
Talking to kids about Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting
Centerstone counselors also said parents should be mindful of the amount of exposure their children get to the coverage from the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
"Children can sometimes not understand that as they see news stories they are seeing the same images repeated and not seeing images of a new incident that has happened," Melvin said.
Melvin said parents should listen to their kids without using leading questions, because parents could create fear where there is none for the child.
If your child does exhibit behaviors that signal they are worried about their safety, Melvin said to have an age appropriate conversation that is very reassuring to the child.
Also parents should find out how the shooting is address with kids at their school. Melvin said it is a good idea to get a copy of the talking points the school uses if they do talk to students.
Some behaviors to look out for that could signal a problem is changes in eating or sleeping habits.