National Suicide and the Black Church Conference Underway at UTHSC

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee today told participants at the Suicide and the Black Church Conference that the faith community has a major role to play in easing the mental health crisis in the state. The two-day conference is presented by The Healing Center and hosted at UTHSC. (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

Faith leaders, mental health and health care professionals, government officials, and community advocates from Memphis and across Tennessee came together today at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center for the 9th National Suicide and the Black Church Conference presented by The Healing Center.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, in Memphis Tuesday and today for various events, opened the conference. The governor said nonprofits, faith-based groups, the community, and the government must work together to begin to create hope for those in mental health crisis.

“The fact that you have been doing this so long is evidence of your commitment,” he said.

Lee said his family has dealt with serious depression and mental illness. “I was awakened to the tremendous challenges that weave their way through families of every kind,” he said.

The governor pointed to Tennessee’s suicide rate, which is roughly 20 percent higher than the national average, saying he is committed to providing the hope that comes when people have access to mental health services.

“I wanted to come here today to say there are people out there counting on you,” he told the audience.

The conference, which runs today and Thursday in the Student-Alumni Center at UTHSC, will discuss suicide, including child and adolescent suicide, depression, trauma, bullying, domestic violence, manifestation of depression in veterans, addiction, the prescription drug epidemic, the rise of depression among clergy, and more.

Also attending are Commissioner Marie Williams, LSCW, of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and Monty Burks, PhD, director of Faith Based Initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris also spoke to the group today. Actress Kim Fields will deliver a luncheon keynote address Thursday