Death of former Miss USA, lawyer with SC ties, highlights importance of getting help

February 04, 2022
Cheslie Kryst's last Instagram post.
In her last Instagram Post, Cheslie Kryst wrote: "May this day bring you rest and peace."

The death of former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, who was also a lawyer, entertainment show correspondent and University of South Carolina graduate, has had people across the country wondering why someone so successful — and seemingly happy — would take her own life.

Her mother released a statement, reported by People magazine, that appears to contain the answer. “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.”

Kryst’s attempt to cover up serious mental health struggles isn’t surprising, said Meg Wallace. She’s an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina who lost a friend to suicide and advocates for suicide prevention. 

“Part of that is because it's a hard topic to talk about, right? If you're feeling these thoughts of wanting to end your life, that's a really hard conversation to have. To share that and to put faith and trust in someone, believing they’re going to support you or understand that is difficult,” Wallace said. 

“I also think there is very much a stigma against sharing mental health struggles, particularly from historically disenfranchised communities.” 

Kryst, who was Black, did share a little about her struggles in a 2021 essay in Allure. “Why work so hard to capture the dreams I’ve been taught by society to want when I continue to find only emptiness?” she wrote, referring to feelings she’d had in the past. Kryst concluded the essay on an optimistic note, saying she’d learned to seek joy and purpose on her own terms.

She died less than a year later. And she wasn’t the only high-profile suicide last month. Oscar winner Regina King’s son took his own life. So did TikTok star Candice Murley. They’re among more than 45,000 Americans from all walks of life who die by suicide each year.

“Shining the light on the struggle with suicide is really important. Letting people know about resources can be really beneficial and helpful, especially to those who are struggling,” Wallace said. 

Those resources include the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which has a crisis line you can call. You can also get help by texting TALK to 741741. It also offers mental health resources for Black, Hispanic/Latin, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.

In South Carolina, the Department of Mental Health has a Mobile Crisis team staffed by more than 200 mental health experts statewide. You can call 1-833-364-2274 any time of the day for help. And MUSC Health has an Institute of Psychiatry that has been named Hospital of the Year by the National Alliance on Mental Health’s South Carolina chapter. 

Wherever a person turns for help, just making that choice can be lifesaving. “When someone gets to a place that they're wanting to end their life, it feels like there isn't a better option. It's important for them to find small supports or small things that maybe can help deter it,” Wallace said.

“If you find those communities or resources that can help uplift you, and help hold that hope for you while you maybe can't hold it yourself, it’s really important. That may be through therapy, reaching out to your family and friends or finding a community group that you can be around. It's important to be able to give that stressor, and that need, over to someone else to hold it if it's too much for you to manage.”

And if you’re worried about someone in your life, Wallace had some advice. “If behaviors change, they're going through a rough time or even if things just look and feel different, it’s important to check in and ask people how they're doing, and if there's anything you can do to help them. Those types of comments or questions or outreach and support from families can do wonders. 

“They may never share with you that they were in that dark of a place. But sometimes that question of just, ‘Hey, I'm here for you. Is there anything I can do to help you right now?’ can make a world of difference for someone who's struggling.”

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