The Tragic, True Story Of Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst

This article contains mentions of depression and suicide.

When Cheslie Kryst was crowned Miss USA 2019, she was the epitome of success — she was gorgeous, had obtained a law and business degree simultaneously, and worked as a lawyer who often took on pro bono cases. She also started working as a reporter for Extra in 2019 and ran a blog titled White Collar Glam, which focused on all things fashion.

Even though Kryst's life looked perfect from the outside, her mental health was anything but. Like so many celebs who have anxiety and experience depression, she was hiding it well. Kryst was hoarding accolades faster than most of her peers and in a piece she wrote for Allure, she questioned whether her achievements were even worth it. "Too often, I noticed that the only people impressed by an accomplishment were those who wanted it for themselves. Meanwhile, I was rewarded with a lonely craving for the next award," she wrote. "Some would see this hunger and label it 'competitiveness;' others might call it the unquenchable thirst of insecurity." She also hinted that she was still left feeling empty no matter how many accomplishments she added to her resume.

In her farewell message to her mother, Kryst wrote that she experienced a "crushing weight of persistent sadness, hopelessness, and loneliness," regardless of what she accomplished (via People). In the end, this led to her tragic death which still haunts her loved ones and fans today.

Cheslie Kryst had a lonely childhood

She might have grown up to become Miss USA 2019, but Cheslie Kryst wasn't popular among her peers when she was a child. Shortly after she was crowned Miss USA, she told AP News in an interview that she had always been the odd one out. "I was that little weird kid who had a unibrow and didn't have any friends," she said.

Kryst didn't exactly grow up with bucketloads of self-confidence. Her mom, who won the title of Mrs. North Carolina in 2002, is the reason she initially became interested in pageants at the tender age of 10. Despite not having a lot of confidence, Kryst wanted to be like her mother. "It was a time in my life when I didn't know who I was and wasn't confident in myself ... I thought I want to be just like her," she recalled.

While many would think this counterintuitive, Kryst explained that for her, taking part in pageants actually helped her grow into herself. "I can't say pageants make you beautiful. I think they make you more confident in the person that you are," she said. As a result, she embraced her weirdness instead of seeing it as something negative. Kryst admitted that she still loved to do all the things she used to enjoy, like spending her evenings curled up on the couch watching movies or reading a book.

Cheslie Kryst was hospitalized for exhaustion while attending university

Cheslie Kryst was an incredibly hard worker — she would push herself relentlessly and was always focused on what came next. Her unquenchable desire to show the world her worth was evident when she enrolled at Wake Forest University for not one, but two degrees. "I decided I'd earn a law degree and an MBA at the same time. (Why stop at two degrees when you can have three?)" she wrote in a piece for Allure.

While one degree keeps most of us so busy that we couldn't even fathom adding another to our plate, Kryst also enrolled in plenty of extracurricular activities while completing two degrees at once. "I joined a trial team at school and won a national championship. I competed in moot court; won essay competitions; and earned local, regional, and national executive board positions," she wrote.

Kryst gave her all in everything she did, but we humans are not robots, and eventually, Kryst's body forced her to slow down. "I nearly worked myself to death, literally," she wrote, adding that she eventually ended up in hospital for eight days after pushing herself too hard for too long. This health scare gave her a new perspective, and she knew that something had to change. She started asking herself why her achievements were so important to her and whether they were really worth it in the end. Eventually, Kryst discovered that she was trying to hide from her insecurities.

The 2019 Miss USA winner attempted suicide while in law school

Before Cheslie Kryst ended her life in 2022, she'd already survived a previous suicide attempt. Aside from ending up in hospital for over a week after pushing herself too hard while trying to earn two degrees at the same time, Kryst also attempted suicide at one point while she was at university.

Her mother, April Simpkins, told Today that her relationship with her daughter changed drastically after the incident and they grew even closer. "She needed support, not a fixer," Simpkins told the outlet, explaining that, after the suicide attempt, she paid close attention to what her daughter said to her whenever they spoke. "I listened very differently. She never had to say to me, 'Mom, this is really an issue for me.' ... I knew these cues that when she brought something up in a certain way, we needed to talk through that," Simpkins recalled. 

In a separate interview with The New York Times, Simpkins said that she and Kryst started sharing everything with each other after her first suicide attempt. Kryst would tell her mother how she was coping mentally and regularly inform her whether she was eating and sleeping well. Aside from checking in with Simpkins daily, Kryst also started seeing a therapist.

Cheslie Kryst completely burned herself out preparing for the Miss USA pageant

In her posthumous memoir, "By the Time You Read This," Cheslie Kryst gave the world a look behind the scenes of her seemingly glamorous life. It turned out that, ahead of her Miss USA 2019 win, Kryst was completely burnt out from constantly pushing herself to be the best. Kryst, who passed two bar exams prior to competing in the Miss USA pageant, decided to use the same methods that worked at university to ensure she brought her A-game on the big night.

"Inspired by my bar prep methods, the approach I used for my Miss USA preparation was unforgivingly brutal," she wrote in her book. The routine Kryst set out for herself was incredibly exhausting. She'd wake up before 5 a.m. so she could get a workout in, then start her job at 7 a.m. Lunch breaks weren't breaks — she used them to practice for Miss USA interviews or to attend events where she had to speak. "I prepared for every scenario, question, or surprise change I could think of. The only part I didn't prepare for was losing. I simply refused to carry that visual in my mind," she wrote. "This routine was exhausting and taxing on my body, my energy, and my mental state," she admitted but added that she was confident she could keep it up. After all, she used to study 10 hours a day for the bar exam.

Kryst received a lot of online hate after being crowned Miss USA 2019

When Cheslie Kryst was crowned Miss USA in 2019, she made history. She was the oldest person to be awarded the prestigious title, and even though this was applauded by most, the internet trolls were relentless. In a piece Kryst wrote for Allure, she recalled how pageant fans were unhappy that a woman of 28 was awarded the title. "[They] immediately began to petition for the age limit to be lowered," she wrote.

In her posthumous memoir "By the Time You Read This," Kryst gave readers a behind-the-scenes look at what things were like shortly after she won the crown, and it wasn't all glitz and glam. Instead, keyboard warriors took to her Instagram to spew hate. "Just hours after my win, I had to delete vomit-face emojis that a few accounts had plastered all over the comments on my Instagram page. More than one person messaged me telling me to kill myself," she wrote. Others told her that she had a "man body" because she was muscular and attacked her for not being beautiful enough. "And that was just my looks. My opinions, on the other hand, were enough to make a traditional pageant fan clutch their pearls," she wrote in her Allure piece. Kryst made it a priority to publicly fight against the injustices in America, and it didn't win her any brownie points with her haters.

Cheslie Kryst had depression

Cheslie Kryst was incredibly successful — she accomplished more before 30 than most do in a lifetime, and yet, none of her achievements could suppress the crippling depression she experienced. In Kryst's posthumous memoir, "By the Time You Read This," her mother revealed that Kryst had been dealing with depression long before she ever entered the Miss USA pageant and that she constantly dealt with the fear of not living up to people's expectations. Despite constantly adding stunning achievements to her already lengthy resume, Kryst couldn't get rid of her nagging self-doubt. In an interview with The New York Times, Kryst's mother, April Simpkins, said that her daughter had high-functioning depression.

This is not actually a clinical diagnosis but is often used to describe someone who has persistent depressive disorder (PDD), according to Medical News Today. People who experience depressive symptoms for a prolonged time are usually diagnosed with PDD. Because their symptoms are sometimes less severe than those who have major depressive disorder (MDD), people can often continue functioning in everyday life, which is why this diagnosis is often referred to as a high-functioning depression. Still, people with PDD often experience long periods of major depression and feel better for shorter periods.

Her depression worsened after winning Miss USA in 2019

Even though winning Miss USA was one of her biggest achievements, Cheslie Kryst's depression worsened after she won the crown. Before she entered the pageant, she'd been dealing with imposter syndrome alongside depression, and after she was shoved into the spotlight, the pressure to be perfect only increased. "Winning Miss USA hadn't made my imposter syndrome go away. Instead, I was waiting for people to realize I didn't have a clue about what I was doing," Kryst wrote in her memoir, "By the Time You Read This." She detailed how she tried to compartmentalize her thoughts to stay positive and confident in the moments she needed it most, but the effects weren't lasting.

Kryst found herself living in constant panic that those around her would realize she wasn't worthy of the Miss USA title. She would overthink every word and every move she made. "I almost always suppressed my panicky thoughts and feelings of inadequacy during my interviews. I only felt like a failure afterward, as I meticulously picked apart each of my responses and kicked myself for not using a better word or saying a profound phrase or interjecting humor or throwing out a useful stat," she wrote. Kryst's fame only amplified her insecurities of not being enough, knowing enough, and being inadequate at her new job as Miss USA. "People would soon find out I was a fraud. I felt like an imposter, but not just in pageants," she wrote.

Cheslie Kryst had a fear of getting older

Most of us have mixed feelings about aging, but Cheslie Kryst was terrified of how her age would impact how the world saw her, and as her 30th birthday loomed, she wrote a piece for Allure in which she put her fears and uncertainties into words. "Each time I say, 'I'm turning 30,' I cringe a little. Sometimes I can successfully mask this uncomfortable response with excitement; other times, my enthusiasm feels hollow, like bad acting," Kryst started her article. 

She explained how she watched the entertainment industry cast aging women to the side, save for a select few. Other celebs, like Madonna, have also spoken about how women aren't allowed to age in the industry after people were seemingly worried about Madonna's appearance at the 2023 Grammys. Kryst explained that women often seem to have an expiration date and she was more aware of this than ever after people criticized the Miss USA pageant for allowing a 28-year-old woman to walk away with the crown.

After her Miss USA win, Kryst was excited about what was ahead, but being so close to turning 30 made her feel that, perhaps, all her dreams were futile. "Turning 30 feels like a cold reminder that I'm running out of time to matter in society's eyes — and it's infuriating," she wrote. She ended the piece with an optimistic tone, writing that she was going to focus on finding "joy and purpose on my own terms."

Cheslie died by suicide in 2022

When a woman jumped from a New York apartment building on January 30, 2022, no one expected it to be Cheslie Kryst. When news broke that it was her, the world was in shock. Just that morning, Kryst posted a gorgeous snap to her Instagram page with the caption, "May this day bring you rest and peace." Her feed up until that point had been filled with smiling snaps and videos of her showcasing her ever-cheerful personality, so the caption didn't necessarily raise alarm bells. But Kryst sent one last heartbreaking text to her mother, April Simpkins, before she jumped from her apartment building. Simpkins later told People that she knew Kryst sent the text to comfort her after her death.

Kryst's family confirmed her death in a statement. "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," it read (via the New York Post). Extra, which employed Kryst as a reporter, also released a statement, saying, "Our hearts are broken. Cheslie was not just a vital part of our show, she was a beloved part of our Extra family and touched the entire staff."

Sources told the New York Post that Kryst was reportedly last seen on the terrace of the building's 29th floor before she was found dead in the street below.

None of her friends or colleagues realized that Cheslie Kryst was depressed

The heartbreaking death of Cheslie Kryst came as a shock to her close friends and colleagues, who in the aftermath of her death were completely baffled by her decision to take her own life. "There wasn't one moment that I could point to [that hinted she was depressed], which makes it even more confusing and difficult to deal with," said Kryst's former colleague Nate Burleson (via The New York Times). "It was just so, so shocking and it was sad. And still is sad." The president of the Miss USA Organization, Crystle Stewart, who was there the night Kryst was crowned Miss USA 2019, recalled that Kryst made a very good first impression. "The first thing I thought about her was that she was strong — mentally and physically," Stewart said.

Speaking to The New York Times, mental health counselor Angela Massey said that Black women often find themselves feeling pressured to exude strength, and this often dissuades them from seeking help. Clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine, Dr. Christin Drake, explained that some people who have depression can hide it very well. "A person can be experiencing significant distress and significant symptoms of major depression and not have it be evident to those around them, even people with whom they are quite close," said Dr. Drake.

Cheslie Kryst's mother found out how she died in the news

When Cheslie Kryst's mother, April Simpkins, received her long and emotional last text, she told her husband, who immediately called the New York City police. It turned out they were already on the scene, and they assured Simpkins and her husband that medics were attending to her daughter. "[That] was the sliver of hope I needed," Simpkins wrote in "By the Time You Read This." She and her husband kept calling for updates while booking flights to New York, but the police didn't provide any new information. "We were all waiting — waiting for the police to tell us she'd been rushed to the hospital, or she was in stable condition, or something. Anything," Simpkins recalled in the book. It was after she boarded her flight that she got the devastating call from a detective that Kryst had died, but the police didn't tell Simpkins how her daughter died. She received that information like the rest of the world — by reading the news.

In the book, Simpkins recalled how the police had left her hoping that her daughter was still alive for three hours even though she was already dead. "The police were sharing information with a newspaper, not her family," Simpkins wrote. They also didn't tell her about the suicide note Kryst left in her apartment — Simpkins had to hear about that on the news too. "[I] worked hard to move forward from the cruelty of the police withholding information," she revealed in the memoir.

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If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.