Cheslie Kryst, a former Miss USA, social justice advocate, Division 1 athlete, and Emmy-award winner shocked the world when committed suicide at the age of thirty on January 30, 2022. In a recent episode of ‘Red Table Talk’, Kryst's parents sat with Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith, and Adrienne Banfield Norris, to discuss their daughter's tragic death. April Simkins, Kryst’s mother, opened up about her daughter’s high-functioning depression, the family’s heartbreak, and signs parents should look for if they suspect their child is suffering in silence.
Simpkins first noticed that her daughter was exhibiting signs of depression in her early twenties and ensured that Kryst did all of the “right things” to address her mental health, including seeking professional help regularly. However, Kryst did not disclose the full extent of her depression with her family. "I did know Cheslie was suffering from depression. I didn't know the severity of it” she explained. “This was not her first suicide attempt...she had attempted suicide before, and it was after that first attempt that she and I became very close. I wanted her to feel comfortable calling me and always said ‘if you’re in crisis call me!"
It seemed that Kryst’s mental state had improved in the years that followed, although she never went into depth as to how she feeling. Her ability to remain social and compartmentalize her depression in public made it even more difficult to pinpoint symptoms. "If you said to Cheslie, ‘Cheslie, how are you doing?,’ she would say, ‘I’m fine, how are you doing?’…and I think for so many, that’s why they feel like they were best friends with Cheslie because she was so intent on talking about them, not her. People aren’t kind sometimes to those who have mental challenges, and Cheslie knew that" Simpkins discloses.
According to a recent report by Psychology Today, high-functioning depression, also referred to as dysthymia, “doesn’t look like stereotypical depression. Unlike major depressive episodes, which are intense, debilitating, and time-limited, high-functioning depression is low-level, chronic, and doesn’t have a clear trigger.” The study also states, “On the surface, some depressed people appear to lead bustling, fulfilling lives; check out their social media, and you’ll see their smiling faces and beautiful homes. They’re functioning so well that even the thought that they could be depressed seems outrageous.”
The American Psychiatric Association states that depression affects one in fifteen adults annually and can be caused by experiencing trauma, inter-generation depression, and unresolved frustration. Symptoms include “loss of energy and increased fatigue, trouble concentrating and sleeping, purposeless physical activity like pacing and inability to sit still, and feeling worthless or guilty.” The illness can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, and electroconvulsive therapy and drastically improve the mental and emotional health of the affected.
In her final wishes, Kryst, who has always looking out for others, requested that her family share her story to help anyone else. Simpkins is hopeful that the tragedy will other families and anyone else suffering. “Opening up these discussions and just talking about where Cheslie was and her state of mind at that time…hopefully encourages people to be kinder."
If you or someone you know may be struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.