Gayle King remembers Cheslie Kryst’s ‘glare’ – and hopes to shed light on ‘high-functioning depression’

Gayle King, longtime journalist and current CBS Mornings host, is known for her interviewing skills as well as the depth, length and quality of her friendships.

In the days following the death of her close friend Cheslie Kryst, King has asked herself a recurring series of questions.

“I really can’t get over it,” King tells me as we speak on the phone a few days after Kryst’s death, which has been determined to be due to suicide. “I am haunted by it. I knew her. It’s – I don’t even know how to comprehend or have my brain spinning around what happened. I really, really don’t.”
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Many of those who knew Kryst or admired her from afar were a woman who had everything. But those who have made such an assumption should not feel guilty, says Rheeda Walker, a clinical psychologist and director of the Culture, Risk, and Resilience Lab at the University of Houston. There, Walker and her team are investigating the risks, patterns, and aftereffects of suicide and the mental health of black adults, among other things.

“Hopefully Mrs. King and others who knew her [Kryst] personally, they’re going to give themselves a little grace through their grief,” Walker says.

Read more: What we misunderstand about suicide among black Americans

King and Kryst first met in 2019. That year, when the turmoil of COVID-19 was not yet in sight, King’s show did a sit-down interview with the trio of black women who had recently won major crowns: Kaliegh Garris, Miss Teen USA 2019; Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019; and Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA 2019. (A fourth black woman, Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa, was also crowned Miss Universe 2019 but was not part of the roundtable.)

In a world where black beauty has historically been denigrated, where the existence of black intelligence and poise was first questioned and then appropriated, the clean sweep of grand pageant crowns had meaning. King started the interview there, calling the women “a trifecta of black girl magic.” Her first question went to Kryst: when you were crowned, did you realize that this really created a historic moment?

“I didn’t even think about it until we started seeing posts on Instagram,” Kryst replied. She later described the women’s wins as an indicator of how much work remains to be done offstage. “I believe that when Ursula Burns was no longer the CEO… at Xerox, [at that time] there were no more black female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, which is an unfortunate statistic to know,” she said. “This milestone really needs to be celebrated. But it’s also a reminder: we have a lot to do.”

And while all three women were involved at the time, it was Kryst, a young lawyer from North Carolina, who immediately connected with her interviewer.

“They were all great. But Cheslie was the only one, when the interview was over, [to whom] I said, ‘Can I have your number? I’d like to keep in touch with you,” King recalls. “You know, she just had a fucking brilliance.”

In late 2019, Kryst – who added a career as a journalist to her long list of achievements – was tapped to report for Additional. She mustered the courage to contact King for advice. When they met via Zoom, all that the pandemic would allow by then, to discuss television coverage, Kryst had a notepad and pen in hand. Most of all, she wanted to know what to do if job interviews weren’t going well. After all, King had lured a screaming, chest-thumping R. Kelly back into an interview chair by repeating Kelly’s first name.

Over time, the bond between mentor and mentee evolved into friendship. Their conversations covered everything from the book Kryst was writing to the exact brand of glasses Kryst wore when he wasn’t in front of the camera—which King loved so much that she got a matching pair—to Kryst’s hopes to further her career. build and eventually meet someone. King is quick to point out that being single didn’t seem to give her younger friend much anxiety. Last December, a scheduled 40-minute lunch turned into a two-hour GAB session. It was their first face-to-face meeting since the start of the pandemic, and their last conversation.

“I searched my brain and thought, what did I miss? What didn’t I see?” says King. “There were no signs. That’s the truth. And there were two of us, so it’s not that she couldn’t have been candid.”

When King received a text message on Sunday informing her of Kryst’s death, she initially thought a mistake had been made. But Kryst was gone. Then King thought that someone else must have caused Kryst’s death; the security tapes in the building should be checked, King thought. Then she learned that Kryst had died by suicide. King called Kryst’s mother, April Simpkins, Sunday evening. Simpkins, King says, also struggled with more than just memories. She seemed to be trying to understand how and why Kryst seems to have kept her struggles to herself.

Read more: Black girl suicide is a mental health crisis hiding in plain sight

Kryst’s family declined to comment when TIME contacted them this week. But in a statement released Wednesday, Simpkins shared some of her thoughts after a New York medical examiner confirmed Kryst’s death by suicide:

“Today it was officially confirmed what our family and friends privately knew was the cause of death of my sweet baby, Cheslie. While it may be hard to believe, it is true. Cheslie led both a public and private life. In her private life, she dealt with a high-functioning depression that she hid from everyone until shortly before her death—including me, her closest confidante,” Simpkins wrote. “Although her life on this earth was short, it was filled with many beautiful things. memories. We miss her smile, her wise words, her sense of humor and especially her hugs. We all miss it – we all miss her. She was an essential part of our family, which makes this loss even more devastating.”

The condition high-functioning depression is not a specific or formal medical diagnosis, says Walker, the University of Houston psychologist. And suicide is a complex issue, often related to a range of factors in a person’s life. But the practice of masking suffering while presenting yourself as balanced and happy is a real and important phenomenon.

“That confuses me, because you know, I think we all know people who are depressed,” King says after I tell her about Walker’s research. “You can tell they’re having a rough day. But that girl was so… She was a sparkle.’

After reading Simpkins’ statement, King told her team to write a story about high-functioning depression. It is a subject whose importance has perhaps never been clearer.

Depression is really a collection of symptoms over a longer period of time, Walker explains. They can vary. But in her clinical practice, Walker says, those who don’t seem despondent and those who are seemingly always “on” are among those she often worries about the most.

“That’s why it’s so important to have these suicide prevention conversations,” Walker says, “so that people realize that we need to engage in a different kind of society where people feel like they can be their true vulnerable selves.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME at 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. In an emergency, call 911 or seek help from a local hospital or mental health provider.

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