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The Daily Tar Heel

Op-ed: Make space to help those struggling with their mental health


This op-ed is part of the Mental Health Collaborative, a project completed by nine North Carolina college newsrooms to cover mental health issues in their communities. To read more stories about mental health, explore the interactive project developed specifically for this collaborative.

Content warning: This op-ed contains mention of suicide.

“Are you thinking about killing yourself?” The words and the silence that followed were hanging between us, almost palpable. The “yes” that followed, said in an almost defeated tone, slowly slipped from the other side of the phone line and into my ear, stomach and heart. Two hours later, I ended the phone call, exhausted but knowing that my friend was safe for now.

I think about how we got there. I asked my friend how he was doing, and he answered with the ritualistic “OK." Something in his voice seemed off, both distant and about to break. My curiosity led me to ask the question that opened a door to a different ending.

I wish I could say that was the last time I supported someone thinking about suicide. My life is blessed with many beautiful friends, some of whom struggle with the idea of living. This labor of love has taught me many lessons. First and foremost, there are no right answers when it comes to supporting someone.

Being a companion in someone’s journey and making space for the tender parts of their heart is hard. We can and should train and build our capacity, but the uncertainty will remain. We never know where a question will lead or how a journey will end.

We therefore need to become comfortable with this uncertainty, embracing it and leaning into it. Comfort with uncertainty allows us to ask difficult questions and to talk about mental health directly and explicitly. Comfort with uncertainty allows us to notice when those around us need extra help and to not shy away from a loved one due to our fears and insecurities. Comfort with uncertainty means that we can support a loved one without the need to offer band-aid solutions, just love and acceptance.

Doing the work to befriend uncertainty will make us better companions and will enrich our own lives in unexpected ways. The second thing I know is that we matter — our love, care and relationships matter. I have yet to find a study about mental or physical health where social support was not crucial to the outcome.

We must embrace our importance and begin to walk this earth and this campus as agents of change. We need to do the work to open our hearts and love those around us unapologetically. As life taught me, asking that follow-up question when someone’s tone of voice seems off or telling a friend how much they mean to you can make all the difference needed.

I want to end by asking what it would take for us to build a network of healing and protective relationships. How can we take the first step to showing our hearts to one another more authentically?

More than three years have passed since that phone call with my friend. He is still here, doing much better, and my life is much richer for it.

— Lior Vered-Langley, a master of social work student at UNC graduating in 2024.

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