What is my Why: Kris Shonewill


Hello! My name is Kris and I supervise the Healthy Transitions team at Mental Health Cooperative in Nashville, TN. I’ve been thinking a lot about my “why” recently. In a broad sense, why I got into social work in the first place. In a more specific sense, why mental health? Why working with youth and young adults? Why supervising? I feel like some people are born knowing exactly what they want to be when they grow up. That was not me. I never really felt called to a specific job or called to work with a specific population. All I ever knew was that I wanted to help people. I got into social work because I thought it would best prepare me to do just that. I also knew it was a degree that I could do a lot of different things with, which would buy me some time to figure out some of the specifics later. I sort of fell into mental health as one of my first jobs out of college.
Working in Indiana at the time, I began to notice some of the cracks within the greater mental health system. Staff, often underpaid, were saddled with high caseloads. The stress pushed people towards burnout quickly. When people get burnt out, they tend to look for different jobs. This often meant that clients were meeting different social workers every 6 months. The constant turnover meant that relationships were not getting built and people were not getting the help they needed. On top of this issue, there seemed to be a stigma attached to mental health amongst the general public. While seeking treatment for a physical health issue is widely accepted as normal, seeking treatment for a mental health issue is often frowned upon. In my work, I saw some people with mental health issues be feared, treated as if they were strange or even dangerous. Going out in public with clients, I was able to see this stigma manifested on a day to day basis in terms of how they were viewed or treated. I felt I should do my part to help reverse some of that stigma. Those struggling with mental illness are traditionally under-served, under-resourced and overly stigmatized. Once I realized this, I zeroed in on this population as somewhere that I could make a difference.
Moving to Tennessee almost a decade ago and continuing to work in mental health, my passion for the population has only grown. I have seen firsthand the difference it can make in a person’s life when they have a social worker who is willing to go the extra mile by listening for another few minutes, supporting them during a difficult time, transporting to an appointment when they have not other way to get there, or spending extra time looking for a resource that may be of benefit. When Healthy Transitions first began, I was super excited about the model. I loved the idea of getting to work with young adults. I loved the idea of the specialty roles on the team all working together to address different areas of need with clients. I loved the idea of smaller caseloads and the opportunity to spend more time with individuals. I also loved the program's mission to try and bring awareness and education to youth mental health issues in general and try to connect more young people to necessary resources. A few years later, my views have not changed. I am happy to still be able to supervise the team and try to support more youth and young adults to get the help they need.


If you or someone you know is in a medical or life-threatening crisis right now, get help quickly.

  • Call your doctor
  • Call 911 for emergency services
  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255) TTY: 1.800.799.4TTY (4889)
  • Call Tennessee Statewide Crisis Line at 1.855.274.7471


If you have any questions or concerns regarding the Tennessee Healthy Transitions Initiative, please contact:

Tennessee Department of Mental Health And Substance Abuse Office of Children and Youth Mental Health

Phone: 615-878-0043