Following National Suicide Prevention Week, Franklin Tomorrow focused its monthly FrankTalks event Monday on mental health awareness, welcoming community leaders from this arena to share the work they do to provide resources and offer support for those struggling with their mental health or with substance use.
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said according to Franklin Police Chief Deb Faulkner, the Franklin Police Department has seen an “increased number of domestic calls and crisis-related issues” during the pandemic. Amy Alexander, co-founder and executive director of the Refuge Center for Counseling in Franklin, also shared that isolation seems to be stirring up previously dormant issues from times when people felt disoriented or helpless, and she has seen substance use, particularly day drinking, rise as a coping mechanism.
“Both Chief Faulkner and I have been very concerned for several years about the incidences of suicide in our community, and also we’ve been concerned about substance use disorder in our community,” Moore said. “So, I wanted to try to bring together a group of experts … on a blue-ribbon panel to look how we may be able to work in our community and raise that awareness, reduce the stigma and increase the conversation.”
That blue-ribbon panel has developed into the Find Hope Franklin initiative, which has created an online hub of local mental health resources for those seeking help for themselves or someone they know. Find Hope Franklin, in collaboration with the city of Franklin, also released a mental health awareness program on the city’s Facebook and YouTube pages to share information and stories from those impacted by suicide on World Suicide Prevention Day, Thursday, Sept. 10.
“What we had seen typically in social media was a lot of great data and hashtags and things to promote awareness and start a conversation. We really wanted to go a step further and tell some stories,” Alexander, who is on the Find Hope Franklin panel, said of the program.
Moore said Find Hope Franklin is working on community question-persuade-refer (QPR) training and creating a “facility with a continuum of care” for those recovering from mental health struggles.
In addition to Moore and Alexander, FrankTalks featured Monty Burks, director of faith-based initiatives at the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. He said he has recovered from drug addiction, and his journey has informed his current work.
He shared that empathy is of the utmost importance when seeking to help someone struggling with mental health or substance use, adding that he became addicted to drugs when he left his small community to go to college.
“I was introduced to a lifestyle that I wasn’t prepared for,” Burks said. “Three years into my college education, my father died. Five years in, I was a full-blown functioning drug addict, and I was homeless.”
It wasn’t until a woman at a Shoney’s restaurant recognized in Burks the signs of a substance addiction, humanized him, and told him he was going to a group therapy meeting with her that he began the journey of recovery.
“In that meeting, I found out that I was not the only person who suffered from substance use disorder,” he said. “I found out that there were people who looked like me, people who didn’t look like me, people who were professional, people who were not as professional. … Everybody shared a common thing: they were all trying to overcome something that had almost destroyed them and/or their families. But I found community.”
Burks said before that point, he was not fully open with his friends and family about his addiction because he was scared and ashamed and had convinced himself that he was alone in suffering from substance use disorder.
“Addiction is a thing of secret, and secrets are what keep us sick,” he said. “Nobody in the world wants to come out and tell you, ‘Hey, I’m a drug addict,’ or ‘Hey, I have a mental health issue,’ or ‘Hey, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’”
However, he said not only are honesty and openness important in the struggling person’s healing journey, but it’s important for the community to know the signs to look for when someone needs help and to employ empathy, using “people-first” language rather than treating someone like they are defined by their struggles.
“That’s dignity-driven care,” Alexander said. “That’s saying, ‘I see you as a person before I see you as your struggles.’ … I think, when we can simplify the way we do things and just essentially say, ‘Where does it hurt, and how can I help you?’, that language — it matters so much.”
Mindy Tate, executive director of Franklin Tomorrow, said the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network is hosting two free virtual QPR trainings on Thursday, Sept. 17. Those interested in receiving that training can register at eventbrite.com/e/mid-cumberland-qpr-series-tickets-117283294491.
Additionally, Find Hope Franklin’s hub of mental health resources can be found at FindHopeFranklin.com, including information about the Refuge Center, a nonprofit emotional wellness center which offers counseling services to Middle Tennesseans on a sliding pay scale.
To learn more about Franklin Tomorrow and its upcoming events, visit FranklinTomorrow.org.