NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Right now, there’s an urgent shortage of mental health professionals in schools across Tennessee. The pandemic only exacerbated the problem.

Now, a new state program could be the solution to filling the gap.

“What we’re hearing from people in the hospital industry is that emergency departments are filled with pediatric children who are going through a mental health crisis, which means they’re not getting the help they need upfront before their condition turns into a crisis,” explained Alisa LaPolt who works as the policy & advocate director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

NAMI works to help children and young adults affected by mental illness live healthy, fulfilling lives supported by a community that cares.

The 2023 Tennessee Child Fatality Report details that suicide is the second leading cause of death among children aged 10-14 years old. While numbers have been steadily declining in the state, advocates said parents should still be alert.

“Critical, it’s critical from a policy-making standpoint and it’s also critical from a funding standpoint, and the thing of it is the answer is so complex,” said LaPolt.

With the added shortage of teachers, oftentimes counselors are needed to fill the gap in order to make sure signs don’t go unnoticed.

“Sometimes the signs of a mental health condition are confused with typical teenager behavior, and what that might look like is withdrawal from activities, hobbies, interests, isolation from friends and family,” LaPolt explained.

Now, new help is being added.

Institutions, including MTSU, are now part of Project RAISES in order to provide rural communities with access to professional mental health services for all students in a district.

“Oftentimes in a rural area they lack mental health support, and so the school counselor, social worker, psychologist might only be the only access to a mental health profession, so it’s really imperative that we get more resources out to those areas,” said Dr. Tiffany Wilson, who is the NAMI school counseling program coordinator.

The $14 million grant helps to retain and recruit more than 300 schools across the district.

“I’m not shocked at all. I think the stigma of mental health is still very prevalent in rural areas, not as much as in urban areas, and so I’m not shocked that the amount of schools we could have probably taken more, but those are just the ones who stepped up,” explained Dr. Wilson. “With the pandemic, the need for more mental health support has greatly increased, and say this is a way for us to help train and hopefully retain people to participate in this program.”

The program puts together 70 interns in the areas of school psychology, school counseling, and school social work. Through the Project RAISE initiative, rural districts offer stipends and relocation grants in hopes interns will turn into full time employees at the end of the program.

To learn more about the program, you can email