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Joyre Montgomery / contributed photo

Joyre Montgomery has not only recently earned the title of local Black business owner, but one that has started a therapy and counseling center in the midst of a health care crisis that is having profound effects on mental health. 

In late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported having struggled with mental health issues or substance use as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Montgomery, a licensed clinical social worker, opened the Intentional Healing Empowerment Center in July and provides mental health and therapeutic services for children, adolescents and adults. The center is located at 6727 Heritage Business Court in Brainerd.

"Opening a business during a pandemic has been a difficult thing to do," Montgomery said. "But my position and my role actually helped speed up the process of approval."

Montgomery said it usually takes up to six months to be licensed to be a mental health care provider, but during the pandemic, the process only took about two months, she said. 

"The overall process was quicker because I believe that insurance companies and agencies are recognizing that these resources are beneficial right now."

Many Chattanooga-area residents are still dealing with the aftermath associated with the dual disasters of COVID-19 and a series of tornadoes from earlier this year. In addition, stressful social events and protests that began after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis can be a catalyst for anxiety and depression, symptoms that Montgomery said she often sees with her clients. 

Treating clients from age seven to adulthood, Montgomery offers unique services that are tailored to her clients' accessibility, from walk-and-talk sessions in nature to visits at school locations. 

"I'm seeing a lot of my clients come in with depression or anxiety, struggling with how to cope during this time," Montgomery explained. "A lot of people are already scared and feeling alone because of the pandemic, and those feelings are just multiplied with the injustice being highlighted around us and on social media."

Since the end of May, groups have been gathering in Chattanooga, like in cities across the country, to demand an end to police brutality after George Floyd died under the knee of a Minnesota police officer. Protests in Chattanooga have not turned violent, but there have been arrests, property damage and one night tear gas was used on protesters to force them away from the courthouse.

With September being National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the importance of making sure that mental health resources are available to those who are in need is a pertinent mission for Montgomery, along with providing a safe place for her clients to further their mental health journey. 

"There is a lot of stigma around therapy, and I want to bring a different experience to the community so that more people will choose not to be afraid of seeking mental health therapy," she said.

Providing a range of accessibility in resources to community members is a key factor in breaking the stigma related to mental health, according to Tricia Henderson, director for the Center for Student Wellbeing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. 

"We see our health as holistic, and we know that our physical health and mental health play a part in our overall wellness," Henderson explained. "But still, there is a barrier and a stigma related to getting help for your mental well-being because people are more likely to access resources for just their physical health."  

Henderson also serves as the Southeast regional chair for the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. The statewide organization offers resources for anyone seeking help or looking to educate themselves on how to help others. 

"The more we have these conversations around our mental health, the more we can guide people to our local resources and help them understand the early warning signs and what the risk factors are," Henderson said. 

There is a universal understanding of how to address physical emergencies, such as admitting yourself to an emergency room, and Henderson underlined the importance of knowing the local resources available for mental health emergencies. 

For the Chattanooga area, those resources include the Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System on Spring Street, an organization that serves community members through prevention, treatment and recovery services. 

It's an organization that not many in the area realize is available for walk-in treatment, and an immediate assessment for a mental health crisis or suicidal behaviors, according to Henderson. 

"As we deal with so many issues related to social justice and the pandemic, it's very important to take care of ourselves," Henderson added. "We also have to be willing to have these conversations to show that there is hope, and that we can advocate for our entire community to have access to mental health resources on a regular basis."

24/7 crisis support lines

– Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System - Mobile Crisis (adults) 800-704-2651

– Youth Villages- Mobile Crisis (child and teen) 866-791-9225

– National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255

– Crisis Text Line Text TN to 741 741