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UNC has a ‘mental health crisis.’ What the women’s soccer team is doing to help.

Charlotte Observer - 10/21/2021

Editor’s note:This story contains reporting about suicides, a topic that will be disturbing to some readers.

While sports are often seen as a place to escape everyday troubles for a few hours, North Carolina’s women’s soccer team would rather their Thursday night game offer solutions to what’s become a mental health crisis on campus.

Spectators who arrive at Dorrance Stadium to watch the Tar Heels play Florida State on Thursday night at 8 p.m. will find the stadium decorated with green signs offering encouragement following three student deaths by suicide this semester.

Sidewalks in the stadium have supportive messages in chalk saying, “You are enough,” “You are loved” and “You matter.”

“We hope everyone that comes can be reminded there’s good in this world,” UNC sophomore midfielder Madi Pry said in an email to the News & Observer, “that there is hope, and that they are seen, loved, and heard.”

Pry spearheaded the effort and received approval from UNC’s athletic department this week.

Four chairs on UNC’s bench will be left empty, marked off with flowers and black jerseys, in tribute to the three UNC students who lost their lives to suicide.

The fourth one is even more personal to Pry. It will honor a friend and fellow Pinecrest High School Class of 2019 graduate who died by suicide on Oct. 14. Pry’s No. 23 jersey will adorn that chair.

The signs carrying messages written by the players are green because that is the color for mental health awareness. Green ribbons, balloons and streamers also decorate the stadium.

A table will be set up with balloons, Sharpies and ribbons for people to personalize their tributes.

“The purpose of the balloons is to give people that have lost someone to suicide a way to honor them,” Pry said. “They can blow up the balloons, decorate them, and write the names of people they have lost and then use the ribbon to tie them to the railing around the stadium.”

Last Sunday, the News & Observer previously reported, UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said the campus and the country are “in the middle of a mental health crisis,” noting that college-age students carry an increased risk of suicide. His emailed message to the campus community canceling classes on Tuesday was sent out Sunday on World Mental Health Day.

The UNC women’s soccer team’s players posted a message on social media Thursday, in addition to a video, explaining why this tribute around the game is important to them.

“As a program, we want to send the message that you are loved, you are worthy, you matter and the world is a better place with you in it,” the message said. “Mental health IS health and mental health is treatable. Everyone is going through their own battles daily and you don’t have to suffer in silence. You are never alone.”

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