Death of former Miss USA reignites mental health conversation

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is available at any time by calling National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention at 1.800.273.TALK.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The death of former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst is reigniting the conversation about mental health and suicide.

Kryst won the Miss USA title in 2019. Before competing in the pageant, the 30-year-old was a successful attorney.

kryst he died by suicide over the weekend in New York City.

Mental health advocates say people are often surprised when notable or well-known figures die by suicide, but mental illness affects a significant number of people.

“(Suicide is) the end result of an illness that was possibly left untreated. Many times, people who die by suicide think that they are selfish, which in fact is not the truth. That person who is contemplating or attempting suicide or dying by suicide was in a lot of pain,” said Christy Buck of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.

Buck says current statistics show that one in five adults will experience mental health problems in any given year, and one in four families will have a family member struggling with mental illness. She says it is one of the leading causes of disability.

“We know that there is a very high rate of suicide right now among 24-34 year olds. We know this. The highest are men. We need to have these conversations with these people,” Buck said. “Anyone can really be at risk. That’s where awareness and education come into play.”

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Mental health advocates say knowing the signs to look for can save a life. They include changes in appetite, sleeping more, spending more time alone, crying spells, feelings of hopelessness, and drug and alcohol use.

Buck says that once you notice a change in behavior, even a small one, ask the person about the change. Buck says that sometimes people will instinctively respond by saying they’re fine, but be persistent and tell them why you’re asking.

“’I have noticed changes in this person’s behavior.’ This is how you start the conversation with someone. ‘Well, what I noticed recently is that you’re usually the person who always makes coffee first thing in the morning when you get to work, and what I noticed is that you get to work and go straight to your office,'” Buck said in An example.

The West Michigan Mental Health Foundation uses the acronym “NICE” —meaning prompt, invitation, challenge, and empowerment— to implement your action plan. The organization’s leaders say that once you notice a change in behavior, start a conversation with the person. From there, they say it’s best to challenge that person to seek treatment. Lastly, they say you should have resources ready, like the suicide prevention hotline.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255

Bucks says it’s also important to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide to help prevent future deaths.

“For family members who lose someone to suicide, a lot of that (shame) goes back to, what did I do wrong? What did I miss? That shame, the shame of not knowing this,’” Buck said. “With a person who doesn’t seek help and treatment, a lot of that shame is the shame that says, ‘I’m letting people down. I’m not a strong enough man, I’m not a good co-worker. I’m not a good employee, I’m a terrible mother.’ I mean there are so many things that go through someone’s mind when they are fighting this disease called depression.”

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