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COVID-19 is uncertain. Social distancing is lonely. But make no mistake: there is still hope.

"Now more than ever we need to be kinder and gentler with ourselves and each other," Knox Co. Health Department director Martha Buchanan said.

It was perhaps the most difficult press conference yet for local leaders handling the spread of coronavirus.

Doctor Martha Buchanan took the podium at the Knox County Health Department only hours after learning the county had seen a "significant" increase in suicides in the previous days. 

"It’s challenging to have your world turned upside down by losing your job, by having to stay home, by not being sure if you’re going to get sick or not. We get that," she said, her voice cracking. "But we will get through this crisis together if we allow ourselves to reach out when we need help." 

Coronavirus social distancing guidelines encourage isolation. That's tough for people who may be experiencing depression or mental health issues said Helen Ross McNabb leader Amber McMillan.

"There really is still hope in this time of certainty. That’s the message we’re kind of giving here. This is unprecedented we haven’t gone through this before either but we can get through it together," she said. 

Mayor Glenn Jacobs echoed that message in an interview Friday. 

"We need a lot more hope and optimism right now. The reality is that this is a serious issue. The reality is that we’re going to get through it, and our community is going to be stronger," he said. 

Jacobs encouraged everyone to come together; to call a friend, check in on a family member and enjoy the spring weather. 

"Folks do care and there are people out there who care. And you’re not alone," he said. 

"Take all the hype away and acknowledge that this is the human condition and it’s challenging and that’s okay. It’s okay if you’re struggling, it’s okay if you’re scared. Just talk about it. We struggle with these decisions too," Buchanan said.

Help from organizations like Helen Ross McNabb continues to be available during widespread closures. Their crisis hotline is (865) 539-2409. 

"We’re here, we’re listening. We’re able to listen to your concerns, talk to you about what’s going on, tell you maybe some coping skills," McMillian said. 

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If you prefer to text, then send 'TN' to the Crisis Text Line at 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 some 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.

Or, people can chat online with a specialist at the Lifeline Crisis Chat who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services by logging onto www.crisischat.org.

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