Cheslie Kryst’s Tragic Death Is a Painful Reminder of America’s Mental Health Crisis

Cheslie Kryst

Miss USA Cheslie Kryst appears at the 2019 Miss Universe pageant. (KCM/Getty images)

“Cheslie was never without a smile. Her passing is the ultimate reminder that we don’t know what people may be dealing with privately.”

Cheslie Kryst, a former Miss USA and correspondent for Extra, was found dead Sunday morning in New York City. Police said she had jumped from a high-rise building in Manhattan and that her death was being investigated as a suicide. 

Friends and colleagues described the 30-year-old as a radiant presence who was “full of light.” They were also completely stunned by the news.

“Cheslie was never without a smile,” Extra executive producer Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey told Katie Couric Media. “Her passing is the ultimate reminder that we don’t know what people may be dealing with privately.”

Who was Cheslie Kryst?

Kryst was born in Jackson, Michigan, and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, when she was young. She graduated from the University of South Carolina, where she ran track. Kryst went on to earn an MBA and law degree from Wake Forest University, and she began practicing law in 2017. She focused on civil litigation for the firm Poyner Spruill, which described Kryst in a statement as a “passionate advocate in and out of the courtroom.”

Kryst began competing in pageants as a teenager. She was crowned Miss North Carolina in 2019, and later that year she went on to win Miss USA, becoming the oldest woman, at 28, to ever win the contest.

Cheslie Kryst spoke openly about mental health, race, and beauty standards

Kryst also made waves by intentionally wearing her natural curls during the Miss USA competition to make a statement about beauty standards. 

“Pageant girls are supposed to be model-tall and slender, don bouffant hair, and have a killer walk,” Kryst wrote in an essay for Allure. “But my five-foot-six frame won with six-pack abs, earned after years of competing in Division-I Track and Field, and a head of natural curls in a time when generations of Black women have been taught that being ‘too Black’ would cost them wins in the boardroom and on pageant stages.”

In that same piece, published last year, Kryst describes how she’s grappled with growing older, and how on the brink of turning 30, she felt like she was “running out of time to matter in society’s eyes.”

Kryst had spoken publicly about how she prioritized her mental health. In a 2019 video on Facebook, she said that she regularly spoke with a counselor and took time at the end of each day to decompress. “I unplug. I shut my phone off. I don’t answer messages.”

Extra‘s response to Kryst’s death

In 2019, Kryst joined Extra as a correspondent and earned two Daytime Emmy nominations. “Our hearts are broken,” her colleagues said in a statement after her death. “Cheslie was not just a vital part of our show, she was a beloved part of our Extra family and touched the entire staff. Our deepest condolences to all her family and friends.”

Has the pandemic lead to an increase in suicides?

Tragic deaths like that of Kryst and Regina King’s son Ian Alexander Jr. are just a couple of recent examples of a heartbreaking number of suicides in America, which led the Surgeon General to make a call to action to help prevent more painful losses like these.

Some fear the pandemic has triggered a mental health crisis across the country. Mounting Covid-related deaths, social isolation, intermittent lockdowns, and the general uncertainty facing us now all contribute to a surge in cases of depression and anxiety. And according to a recent survey of mental health professionals from the New York Times, many patients are reporting suicidal thoughts.

One report found that suicides actually declined 3 percent overall in 2020, but a CDC behavioral scientist told BuzzFeed News that trend might not hold: “While it may seem counter-intuitive to see reductions in suicide during the pandemic, given increases in risk factors, this pattern is not unprecedented,” she said. “Based on prior disasters, suicide rater sometimes dip only to go back up again after the immediate crisis has passed.”

If you’re struggling with your mental health and considering ending your own life, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline offers free support by phone 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

And if you know someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide, this helpful advice about what to say in these tragic situations is a great place to start with deciding how to show them your love and support.