KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Knox County is seeing a disturbing trend in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Glenn Jacobs said on Friday that the Regional Forensic Center examined nine suspected suicide cases – eight of which are from within Knox County – in the past 48 hours alone.
That's 10 percent of the total number of suicides from all of last year, when there were 199 confirmed or suspected suicides from across the region and 83 in Knox County.
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“That number is completely shocking and makes me wonder if what we are doing now is really the best approach,” Mayor Jacobs said. “We have to determine how we can respond to COVID-19 in a way that keeps our economy intact, keeps people employed and empowers them with a feeling of hope and optimism – not desperation and despair."
The director of the Knox County Health Department was visually emotional at the daily press conference Friday as she spoke about these sobering numbers.
"Now, more than ever, we need to be kinder and gentler with ourselves and with each other," Dr. Martha Buchanan said. "If you are struggling, I encourage you to reach out. Reach out to your pastor, a friend, call the hotlines."
She said she knows the decisions Knox County leaders have made to stop the spread of the coronavirus are hard, and the people who have made the decisions are struggling with that.
But she emphasized these are the decisions that will keep people safe and stop the spread of coronavirus.
She wanted to remind everyone that the great majority of people recover from coronavirus and many don't even get that sick. The biggest concern, she said, is for the cases that are so severe they need hospitalization.
"Find a way to connect with each other," she said, mentioning that she was using Facetime to see friends when she can't physically be there with them.
Dr. Buchanan explained that the county's social distancing and self-isolation measures are an attempt to prevent the spread of a virus that's new to humans. She said that since humans have no immunity built up to COVID-19, a person can infect several more than they would if they had the flu, since most people have an immune system that recognizes and can fight the flu.
Since more people can get infected, the virus has a higher chance of travelling to at-risk populations. The measures are a necessary way to protect the people who are most vulnerable among the community, even if symptoms may be negligible for many other people, she said.
"At some point, we’re going to beat this thing, and then we’re going to go on and we still have to build a great community and we still will be the best place to live," Mayor Jacobs said.
He added: "We're gonna get through this."
Suicide Prevention Resources
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Crisis Text Line: Text TN to 741741 if you're struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Additionally, the peer recovery call center is available in East Tennessee, where those who answer the hotline have first-hand experience in the area.
The center can be reached at 1-865-584-9125 between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Lifeline Crisis Chat: Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, and suicide prevention services www.crisischat.org/