Mental health experts fear suicides will climb due to the pandemic, but a group is trying to stop it

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TAMPA, Fla. — You've been hearing about deaths from COVID-19 daily but now there's a new fear: Deaths by suicide.

Mental health experts are concerned the numbers will rise as more people are stuck at home unemployed, social distancing from others and dealing with prolonged anxiety over this pandemic.

But as we look forward to a rebound, one local group is hoping to stop the suicides, giving people hope before it's too late.

Kristin Mathre is a licensed marriage and family therapist and chair of Zero Suicide Partners of Pinellas, an alliance of mental health groups, treatment centers and advocacy groups to help reduce the rate of suicides.

And they want the community to know, you're not alone and help is out there.

"The most important message I can get to anyone is to use the National Lifeline Number. Everybody should have that Lifeline number in their phone," Mathre said.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK or 8255 and it's answered locally.

"Those folks are very well trained to not only help somebody through that moment, but help them get into our ongoing services and know what local services might be best for them," Mathre explained.

And she recommends anyone who struggles should come up with a safety plan.

''It's talking to somebody and finding out, 'What are the things that you know about yourself that are triggers or help you know that you're beginning to feel bad?' Like you're beginning to feel like I might hurt myself? And then, what are the things that you and your loved ones can do to intervene, to distract you from those feelings?" Mathre said.

And they can be simple activities like exercising, gardening or cleaning to keep you from feeling hopeless.

Mathre says it's also important to write down the safety plan or put it in an app so it's immediately available.

That alone saves lives.

"Just by doing a safety plan, there's a 45% reduction in suicidal behavior," she said.

And if you're still struggling, don't be afraid to reach out.

''There is no shame in reaching out and getting help because help is there," Mathre said.

If you're feeling overwhelmed or have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or 8255. You can also call if you're concerned about a loved-one, as they can help you get in touch with other mental health resources. Tampa Bay Cares can be reached by dialing 211, and they answer the phone 24-hours day, seven days a week.