Mental Health Heroes - DBHDD Commissioner Kevin Tanner & Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Dunn

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DBHDD Commissioner Kevin Tanner & Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Dunn

Each week of Mental Health Awareness Month, we're honored to highlight Mental Health Heroes making a difference in the field. This week, we shine the spotlight on two extraordinary advocates from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities: Commissioner Kevin Tanner and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Dunn. As powerhouses in the mental health community, they understand the critical importance of mental health support within the farming community. This conversation showcases their dedication to improving mental health outcomes for all.

What drew you to focus on the mental health of Georgia’s agricultural community?
Commissioner Kevin Tanner - I think it would be my personal background of growing up on a farm and now owning a poultry farm.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Dunn - I grew up in rural South GA, and my dad farms (mostly peanuts and cotton), and my husband and I own a timber farm. As a therapist living and working in rural Georgia, I have a true passion for this work.

Why is it important to focus on farmers?
Commissioner Tanner - Our agricultural community has a high suicide rate, and our farmers are reluctant to reach out for help.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dunn- I think farmers are the core fabric of our communities; they provide us with food, shelter, and clothing, and we depend on them for so much. I want to give back any way I can.  

How can we help people in our community that may be struggling with their mental health?
Commissioner Tanner - The first thing is not to be afraid to talk with someone about it with them. Also, encourage them to talk with someone. That could be a pastor, a professional, or by calling 988.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dunn - Connectivity is the key. Making sure everyone knows that they can reach out and connect with someone, whether that is a family member, loved one, neighbor or a mental health professional. And if they need to connect with someone and don’t know where to go, they can call 988 or even contact their local NAMI chapter.  I am always willing to help connect folks who need it. 😊

If you could only choose one mental health tip or piece of advice to share, what would it be?
Commissioner Tanner - It’s okay not to be okay - call 988 for help.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dunn - Step away from phones, computers, and other technology and just breathe. Sometimes, something as simple as focusing on our breathing helps center us back to a place where we can be more focused and calm. Take 5 deep breaths and focus on your exhaling. 

What is your favorite way to maintain your own mental health?
Commissioner Tanner - To get out of the office and spend time working on my farm.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dunn - I like spending time outside and being with my dogs. Another thing that helps me is when I am reaching out to others - texting a friend I haven’t heard from in a while always lifts my spirits.