Four months after former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst died by suicide, her mother and step-father have sat down for their first interview since the tragedy.
April Simpkins joined Facebook Watch's “Red Table Talk” to speak with Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith's mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and daughter Willow Smith. Throughout the conversation, Simpkins painted a picture of her daughter’s life and struggles with chronic, high-functioning depression.
Kryst died by suicide at age 30 this past January. At 28 years old, Kryst was crowned Miss USA 2019, garnering praise for being the oldest woman to win the pageant. Two years prior, Kryst had graduated from Wake Forest University with both a law degree and an MBA. She used her degree to do pro bono work for low-level drug offenders and also worked as a correspondent for "Extra," earning two Emmy nominations.
“Depression is not always marked by people laying in bed,” Simpkins explained during her appearance on "Red Table Talk." “There are people who are high functioning and getting through the day. Cheslie wore the face.”
According to Simpkins, her daughter began “taking all the right steps” for her mental health after attempting suicide in her early twenties. Beforehand, Simpkins said she had noticed her daughter's "smiles were a little forced."
The incident brought the mother and daughter closer, and Kryst worked hard to stay healthy. She began seeing a counselor and made sleeping a priority. Still, throughout the years, she struggled.
Speaking about the signs and symptoms that might have indicated her daughter was struggling, Simpkins said she wasn't aware how severe her daughter's depression had become.
“I think what shocked so many people is when you see her on television, when you see her on Instagram, TikTok, she’s smiling, she’s bubbly, and that was Cheslie. But Cheslie was also battling depression, which she hid,” Simpkins explained.
Before her death, Kryst had been vocal about managing mental health. For World Mental Health Day in 2019, she shared some tips for the Miss USA Facebook page.
“I do a lot to make sure that I maintain my mental health, and the most important thing I did was talk to a counselor,” she said. “She’s really easy to talk to. She gives me great strategies, especially if I’m sad or happy or have a busy month ahead of me, so I definitely recommend that.”
Shortly after Kryst's death, Simpkins released a statement about the magnitude of the loss and Kryst's depression.
“I have never known a pain as deep as this. I am forever changed,” she wrote in part. “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.”
“While her life on this earth was short, it was filled with many beautiful memories," she added. "We miss her laugh, her words of wisdom, her sense of humor and mostly her hugs. We miss all of it — we miss all of her.”