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Family gathers to celebrate former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst’s life, local mental health professional offers advice

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Published: Feb. 19, 2022 at 12:19 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 20, 2022 at 2:47 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Loved ones gathered to celebrate the life of former Miss USA and University of South Carolina star athlete Cheslie Kryst at Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday night.

Kryst died by suicide on January 30. Her death shocked many and brought the issue of mental health into the spotlight.

Friday’s service was filled with emotional tributes to Kryst, none more powerful than that from April Simpkins, her mother. She shared stories about all the things she loved about her daughter, saying she was born an advocate and the living example of “a pure, giving heart.” Simpkins also said that Kryst’s legacy can be honored by taking care of your mental health.

“Cheslie throughout her life sowed many seeds through her work, her philanthropy, her advocacy and most importantly, her genuine care for others,” Simpkins said at the celebration of life. “I know those seeds will continue to bear fruit for many years.”

Three years after Kryst won the coveted title of Miss USA, her death is a sobering reminder that mental health crises can hide beneath the surface.

“Not only does suicide or sadness or mental illness and depression impact anyone, there isn’t a way to look for what someone who would look like who would be suicidal, right?” Jennifer Butler, Director of the Office of Emergency Services at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. “It can be someone who seemingly might have everything.”

It’s often hard to tell if someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis. But there are things to look for, experts say.

“So if there’s a change in the emotions they’re experiencing, if there’s a change in their behavior or perhaps they’re becoming more withdrawn,” Butler said. “A change in the way they’re speaking, maybe they’re having more darker thoughts and looking for those other key words of feeling purposeless, there’s not a purpose in life.”

Butler urges people to check in on friends on a deeper level.

“Make sure that you don’t just settle for ‘Oh I’m going to settle for a text message to check in with someone,’” she said. “Make contact, listen to their voice, look at how they’re looking, look in their eyes.”

This can make the difference and help people find the help they need, something Simpkins hopes others will do as a tribute to Kryst.

“Take care of your mental health,” Simpkins said. “I’ve been touched by all the stories you’ve shared with me of choosing to seek counseling. I’m proud of you. Honor Cheslie by becoming an ally for a community that needs support, a community you neither belong to nor benefit from. Be selfless like Cheslie.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health crisis, there are resources available. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or reach out to South Carolina’s Mobile Crisis Unit at 833-364-2274. They can help talk you through your emotions over the phone or send mental health professionals to wherever you are, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

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