CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – In 2019 for the first time ever, the top four pageant titles in the world were held by Black women. In January of 2022, the Miss USA from that year committed suicide. 22News examines mental health in the Black community and the pressure to be perfect.

“No one’s perfect and I think if we take that opportunity to just be more real and tell people that we’re regular people we just have some cool jobs, I think that will help a lot,” said Miss Massachusetts 2021 Elizabeth Pierre.

Pageant titleholders should be perfect… or at least that’s what the world thinks.

“It’s very difficult to deal with pressure. I think just being a titleholder, being in the public eye, and having to feel like you have to put on a brave face and a smile all the time is very difficult in times when you don’t feel like yourself or don’t feel like you want to put a smile on your face.”

Miss Massachusetts 2021 Elizabeth Pierre

However, the idea of how we look at titleholders changed with the suicide of Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, back in January. Kryst, a North Carolina attorney, won the Miss USA pageant in May, 2019, and competed in the Miss Universe pageant that year.

In the past, Cheslie openly spoke about her mental health and that she saw a counselor. However, Cheslie’s mom told people on Instagram that Cheslie “led both a public and a private life.” Detailing that “in her private life, she was dealing with high-functioning depression which she hid from everyone, until shortly before her death.”

“To see her who has influenced so many people and who you would think had everything in place and was a shining beacon of just positivity, to know that she was suffering in silence was painful to see,” said Pierre.

“They will have a lot of symptoms but not know exactly that these symptoms are actually symptoms of depression, and although they have all these symptoms, they can still get up, go to school, go to work, clean the house,” said Indira Andrade is the Program Director of the Gandara Brockton Outpatient Clinic.

Often in the Black community, mental health isn’t talked about or being taught from a young age to “be strong” for everyone else but yourself.

“It’s a lot of pressure because you need to be strong, you need to be that person that everybody looks at and counts on but at the same time you are a human being you have your own feels and emotions,” said Andrade.

When Cheslie won Miss USA, it was the first time that three black women held the biggest titles in the United States, Miss USA, Teen USA and Miss America. A pivotal moment for Black women in pageantry.

“It went to show that there is not one definition or type of Black women. I’d love to see more Black women representing their states and I think that just has to go back to the amount of women that know this is a space that they can be in,” said Pierre.

But now Cheslie’s death, highlighting a larger conversation in the pageant world… the pressure to be perfect in a system that wasn’t built for Black women to originally be there.

Pierre told 22News, “I think that comes in a sense of me feeling like sometimes I have to code switch or sometimes I have to act a certain way at a certain appearance or around certain people and not feeling like I can be fully myself because I’m afraid of judgement of what they might think.”

But being fully themselves is why they won and now it’s time to focus on what comes after.

“Some Black women, men… they will wait until the problem is really bad, that’s when they seek help. And they will realize, ‘Oh I need help. Something is not going well,'” said Andrade.

So where does the conversation go from here? The hope is for a more open conversations around mental health in the pageant community and beyond.