Suicide concerns mount as COVID-19 affects mental health

Nine cases of suicide in Knox County in 48 hours
Posted at 6:45 PM, Apr 01, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — *If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Tennessee Statewide Crisis Line at 855-274-7471.*

Concerns are growing for the well-being of people’s mental health as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads across Tennessee.

In Knox County, 10 people lost their lives to suicide in a matter of six days, nine of them within 48 hours, according to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.

Governor Bill Lee echoed the same statistics in a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday as he focused time on addressing the needs of mental health service providers and people who may be losing hope during this time.

Most of the suicide cases in Knox County were related to a relationship or domestic partner, but they could all be the result of the effects of the outbreak, said Misty Leitsch, TSPN interim executive director.

People in Tennessee are dealing with loss of jobs and self quarantining on top of recovering from the tornadoes that killed more than 20 people in early March.

Leitsch said there’s already been a 62 percent increase in conversations through the crisis text line compared to this time last year. Anyone needing help can text “TN” to 741741. The average number of conversations is up to 80 per month.

“All of the crisis call centers in Tennessee are experiencing a spike in the number of calls,” she said.

The main topic of discussion last year surrounded depression and sadness followed by suicide. Lately, the main subjects have become anxiety and stress followed by depression.

“I think we're going to see numbers continue to grow unfortunately and I don't think it'll be immediate. I think the long term effects of the COVID-19 are going to be devastating,” Leitsch told NewsChannel 5.

Leitsch said more now than ever, to check on people and be patient with each other.

In an effort to reach as many people needing help, the state is working with partners to expand telehealth services. More personal protective equipment have also been shipped to behavioral health care providers who need to see a patient in person.

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will also use a $10 million federal grant to take behavioral services to rural areas by funding a pair of mobile health clinics.

While Robin Nobling of National Alliance on Mental Illness made her organization’s support groups and other meetings virtual, many people in Tennessee do not have access to internet or telehealth services.

Nobling encouraged people who may need help to call their information and referral helpline at 615-891-4724. The group served up to 2,000 people through its direct services last year.

NAMI hasn’t received an uptick of calls through its daily hotline currently, but Nobling said the type of calls are more worrisome.

“We’re getting more calls from people who are anxious or family members of people who are anxious. What we want people to know is that they can connect with us directly,” Nobling told NewsChannel 5.

COVID-19 also affected NAMI’s NAMIWalks Greater Nashville, a fundraiser event that raises awareness and provide 30 percent of funding. It was unposed to take off on April 18, so to continue, people can join the “Walk-in” virtually by sharing their sneaker they can get through the website

NAMI offers wellness tips:

  • Keep a routine, make the bed and keep the sink empty
  • Take medications as prescribed
  • Get outside, move around our yard, take a walk, safely
  • Remember what has worked in the past
  • Good sleep, good food, exercise
  • Follow a mindfulness practice at least once a day
  • Remember you are not your mental illness, there’s a person in there

TSPN also has tips for a suicide-safer home:

  • Lock up firearms separate from ammunition in a gun safe or use a cable lock
  • Be sure the key or combination are kept away from children or anyone at risk
  • Avoid stockpiling lethal doses of medications
  • Consider locking up medications away from youth or those at risk
  • Dispose of unused or unnecessary medications
  • Know the warning signs and ask about suicide
  • Find help and support


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.