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FEATURE ARTICLE / February 2022
Cheslie Kryst & High-Functioning Depression: What Is It & How to Spot It

Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for BET, courtesy of BlackDoctor.org

Cheslie Kryst & High-Functioning Depression: What Is It & How to Spot It

By Christian Carter, BlackDoctor

Cheslie Kryst was the beautiful former Miss USA whose death came as a surprise to nearly everyone when she leaped off her apartment building to her death. The former Miss USA’s death was ruled a suicide, the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner confirmed.

Kryst’s mother is opening up about losing her daughter.

“I have never known a pain as deep as this. I am forever changed. Today, what our family and friends privately knew was the cause of death of my sweet baby girl, Cheslie, was officially confirmed,” her mother, April Simpkins, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.

 “While it may be hard to believe, it’s true. 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,” Simpkins continued.

Kryst joins a long list of other high-profile people whose high-functioning depression tragically ended in suicide. Kryst, designer Kate Spade, fashion icon Alexander McQueen, and actor Robin Williams are all perfect examples of what high functioning depression is.

“These people are incredibly successful, famous, rich,” explains board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. Yalda Safai. “To the outside world, they are on top of the world. They’ve already achieved everything that we all aspire to achieve. Yet they have been battling with depression their entire lives. It does not matter whether you’re successful, rich or famous. Mental illness does not discriminate. And I think it’s incredibly dangerous when a person is high functioning and depressed at the same time, because like I said, those people are least likely to seek help.”

What Is High-Functioning Depression?

High-functioning mental illness is a term to describe those living with a mental illness that most people don’t detect. It covers a broad spectrum; they might have a job, be studying, dress well, or even have the ‘perfect’ family lifestyle.

Some symptoms manifest themselves physically with aches and pains or changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Other times, people may seem disengaged from things that once made them happy.

According to a 2015 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 6.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults. What’s more, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults aged 18 and older, or 18 percent of the population.

But many mental health experts are quick to point out that, while these numbers show the commonality of depression and other conditions, the way in which people experience symptoms is varied. Depression may not always be obvious to those around you, and we need to talk about the implications of this.

Signs You May Be Dealing with High-Functioning Depression

So, how do you know if you or someone you know may be hiding behind high-functioning depression? Here are some signs that you may be dealing with it:

  • People tend to describe you as gloomy or a downer. It may be hard for you to see the bright side of any situation.
  • Some may describe you as lazy because you find it difficult to muster the energy to accomplish basic tasks.
  • It’s hard for you to feel good about yourself, even when given a compliment. You may continuously look for ways to criticize yourself, either internally or outwardly to others.
  • Your weight fluctuates without you being on a diet plan because your appetite grows or recedes depending on your mood.
  • You may find yourself crying or experiencing feelings of hopelessness for seemingly no reason.
  • Your performance may seem fine at school or work, but you’re struggling to appear normal to peers.
  • You find yourself tempted to use substances like drugs or alcohol to make yourself feel better.

If you are struggling with depression, or think you might be, please seek out a mental health counselor. And if someone tells you they are suffering from depression, regardless of their outside success, believe them. And assist them in finding the help they need.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. That’s 1-800-273-8255.

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