Day on the Hill with NAMI Tennessee

A few months ago, a friend told me about NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness). NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. They provide education and support to those affected by mental illness. They also do a lot of work to increase public awareness about mental health conditions. NAMI Tennessee recently sponsored a grassroots advocacy training event in Nashville, and I went!

In addition to receiving training on how to interact with my state legislators, I got to network with other people affected by mental illness. I also got to meet with my state representative and state senator.

This year, NAMI Tennessee is advocating for four things:

State Senator Richard Briggs, from Knoxville, joined us and provided some insights into mental health advocacy and the TN legislature.
State Senator Richard Briggs, from Knoxville, joined us and provided some insights into mental health advocacy and the TN legislature.
  1. We want a $250k budget amendment to expand local Crisis Intervention Teams.
    I’m really excited about the CIT initiative. As some of my readers know, my wife went to jail last summer when she had a mental health crisis and assaulted me. When I had the neighbors call 911, I had no clue that she would be taken to jail. I begged the responding officers to take her to the hospital. They told me that their hands were tied.

    I don’t know if anything would have turned out differently last summer if the officers had been trained. But I do know that police who have CIT training are much more likely to take someone to a treatment facility than they are to make an arrest.

  2. We want stronger laws around insurance parity for mental health & substance use disorder services.
    The TN Department of Commerce and Insurance should report on how they review health plans and hold insurers accountable for providing these services without undue burdens.

  3. We want mental health insurance for those who cannot afford it.
    We want our state legislators to support a bill that would provide insurance for people who don’t qualify for TennCare or for federal health insurance.

  4. Finally, we want more funding for mental health programs.
    Tennessee, like many states, is in desperate need of money for all sorts of programs. We are asking for $34 million to help fund all of these initiatives. We are also asking for $250 million to go into a new Mental Health Trust Fund.

I learned and I networked.

I met with my state representative, Esther Helton.
I met with my state representative, Esther Helton.

Ever since my family’s experience last summer, I knew that I wanted to get involved in advocacy. I vowed to myself that I would go to Nashville sometime in 2020. So when my friend told me about NAMI, I knew this was the perfect opportunity.

This day-long event was a great learning experience for me. When I was in high-school, I participated in a “youth in government” event (in South Carolina), and got to go to South Carolina’s State House. So, in a way, I knew what to expect. But this was the real deal (and I can now say that I’m an experienced lobbyist. Cue the big bucks!)

I met 3 people, who are board members of NAMI Chattanooga, and I look forward to getting involved in this local chapter.

I also had great conversations with Representative Esther Helton, my state representative, as well as Senator Todd Gardenhire, my state senator.

This was definitely a valuable experience for me, and I will make an effort to get involved with more NAMI activities in the future. I will almost certainly be going to Nashville again.

Here’s how you can find help, give help, and get involved for the mental health community.

To learn more about NAMI, visit
NAMI Tennessee’s website is at
And the Chattanooga Chapter for NAMI is

A very practical thing that you can do is to call your state representatives and ask them to support increased funding for Crisis Intervention Teams. This is the initiative that I’m the most excited about, and would have impacted my family the most if one had responded to our 911 call last summer.

But you can also ask your legislators to support NAMI Tennessee’s other initiatives as well. If you are in Tennessee, find your representative’s and senator’s contact information at

Thank you for your support!


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