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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Mourning a death, and building a place to help keep others like it from happening

The Charlotte area mourned one of its own last week.

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Cheslie Kryst, the 2019 Miss North Carolina and Miss USA, died at age 30 in a fall from a high balcony in her New York City apartment building. Officials in New York confirmed she died by suicide.

She had moved up there for her reign as Miss USA, and after that was a correspondent for the entertainment TV show called “Extra.” But her roots were in the Carolinas. She spent much of her childhood in and around Charlotte. She got her bachelor’s degree at the University of South Carolina and her law degree at Wake Forest. She had worked for the Poyner Spruill law firm in Charlotte.

She sparkled on camera. She helped free prisoners who had been oversentenced for minor crimes. She was young and smart and gorgeous.

She also, according to her mother, dealt with depression. Her mother said Kryst hadn’t told family members about it until shortly before she died.

In
a piece Kryst wrote last year
for Allure magazine, she revealed that she had worked so hard at one point that she spent eight days in a hospital. She talked about how “turning 30 feels like a cold reminder that I’m running out of time to matter in society’s eyes.”

Looking at it now, it sounds like the words of someone who needed help.

I thought about Kryst the day after she died, when retired Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith announced his partnership with Mecklenburg County and others to build a behavioral urgent care center in Charlotte.

Smith played with a fury on the field that made him one of the Panthers’ greatest players ever. But he has talked many times about his own struggles with depression, and how he first sought counseling for it in 2013, his last year with the Panthers.

Now he has the means and the desire to help others. And he’s doing it through a center meant for people who need emergency care for mental health issues, substance abuse, crisis counseling and other issues. It’s scheduled to open next year on Colonnade Drive near Bojangles Coliseum.

It’s not clear what kind of help Cheslie Kryst got, if any. But it is clear to me that there’s a need for the kind of urgent care that this new Charlotte center can provide. In moments that can be painful and confusing, it’s useful to have a clear place to go.

Depression, mental illness, substance abuse – these are treatable things. And they affect millions of people. Probably some of your friends and neighbors. Even the ones who look like they have it all.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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