Cheslie Kryst’s Mother Says Daughter Suffered from ‘High-Functioning Depression’ as Psychologist Offers Insights on Warning Signs

The shocking death of Cheslie Kryst, 30, stunned the country, especially many within the Black community who saw her as a beacon of Black excellence.

Kryst had a decorated résumé, including multiple degrees, licenses to practice law in two states, activism, TV hosting and her Miss USA win in 2019. For reporter Kyla Wright, 24, of Detroit, Kryst was an inspiration.

“I’m emulating her, so I’m like, OK, I can be Miss Michigan USA, then I can be Miss USA then I can be an entertainment correspondent,” Wright said of Kryst.

When news spread on Sunday that Kryst jumped to her death from an apartment building in Manhattan in New York, many people were left with a slew of questions.

“Mental health concerns, it doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t care how you look, how much money you have in your bank account, or what you do,” said Charmain Jackman, a licensed psychologist and founder of Innopsych.

Jackman says when people take their own lives, from the outside you may not always see what is unraveling from within, but typically an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety or depression is a contributing factor. “What we see when people are suicidal is that loss of hope,” Jackman said.

Kyrst’s death comes a week after actress Regina King’s son, Ian Alexander, 26, died from an apparent suicide. In one of his final social media posts on Twitter, Alexander wrote, “I don’t think Instagram is healthy for me.” In one of Kryst’s final social media posts on Instagram, she wrote, “May this day bring you rest and peace.”

“Some people may post messages on social media, and it may not be clear until after the fact, and sometimes people would often give signals,” Jackman said.

Also last week, Hyattsville, Maryland, Mayor Kevin Ward, 44, was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Fort Marcy Park near Washington, D.C., police confirmed to the Washington Post.

While Kryst, Alexander and Ward are recent cases, the Journal of American Medical Association found suicide attempts among Black youth rose nearly 80 percent between 1991 and 2019.

Jackman says there are some visible warning signs and risk factors people struggling with their mental health often display, and they include: changes in behavior, social isolation, giving valuables away, saying goodbyes, and vague social media posts. She also says common risk factors include substance abuse and a sense of hopelessness without much regard for the future.

A statement provided to Atlanta Black Star from the family’s publicist on behalf of Kryst’s mother April Simpkins read in part, “What our family and friends privately knew was the cause of death of my sweet baby girl, Cheslie, was officially confirmed. While it may be hard to believe, it’s true. Cheslie led both a public and a private life. In her private life, she was dealing with high-functioning depression which she hid from everyone – including me, her closest confidant – until very shortly before her death.” 

“In devastation and great sorrow, we share the passing of our beloved Cheslie. Her great light was one that inspired others around the world with her beauty and strength. She cared, she loved, she laughed and she shined, but most importantly as a daughter, sister, friend, mentor and colleague – know her impact will live on.”

Jackman says the loss weighs heavy on the families of suicide victims, “because there’s so much stigma around suicide, families can often feel a lot of shame around that so that makes their grief feel even more complicated.”

Kryst’s many accomplishments, strength and beauty helped motivate Wright to compete herself for Miss Michigan USA in 2021. Wright says her takeaway from Kryst’s tragic death is to be more in touch with her own mental well-being and listen when her mind and body is saying enough is enough.

“This is a stigma that a lot of Black women — including myself — are trying to break is we’re not strong all the time, and it’s OK not to be strong all the time. The biggest lesson I want Black women to take away from this, hopefully, is it’s OK not to be OK, it’s OK to seek therapy, it’s OK to just say, ‘I can’t do it today,’” Wright said.

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

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