Kate Spade touched the lives of many with her fashion design work. She was much-loved in her industry and receiving a Kate Spade handbag was considered a particularly special gift for fashion-forward young women. She had a family, too, including a young daughter. So when news hit in June 2018 that she had taken her own life, many people simply couldn’t understand why. But a subsequent statement from her husband, Andy Spade, helped to clarify some things.
Kate Spade was 55 years old when she passed away. The company co-founded by and named after her had been running since 1993, when she and her partner Andy had decided to create a line of stylish yet practical handbags. The Kate Spade bags went on to become massively popular. They were constantly being snapped up by young women and were resoundingly praised by fashionistas.
The company had originally been called Kate Spade as it was a combination of Kate and Andy’s names – Kate Brosnahan and Andy Spade. But just a year later, Kate married Andy and took his name, ending up with the same moniker as her increasingly famous brand. And in 2005 the couple had a baby girl, Frances “Bea” Beatrix Spade.
Many people knew the name Kate Spade – and her death came as a terrible shock. She had seemed perfectly happy beforehand, with wealth and success as well as a family. Tweets made in tribute to her referenced this. “Depression does not discriminate and comes without warning. RIP Kate Spade. Love to her family,” singer Josh Groban tweeted. He also included the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
The day after Kate’s death, her husband Andy released a statement. It was detailed and shed some light on what had been taking place away from the media’s eye. “Kate was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was the kindest person I’ve ever known and my best friend for 35 years. My daughter and I are devastated by her loss, and can’t even begin to fathom life without her,” Andy’s statement began.
“Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives,” Andy went on. “We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this.”
Sadly, this all too often seems to be the case with regards to suicide. When people in the public eye take their own lives, family members sometimes speak of a hidden warning sign – the person in question having suddenly sounded more cheerful immediately prior to their death. This means, unfortunately, that their mental health might have actually taken a turn for the worse.
“Just before a suicide attempt, when the individual has made the decision to kill herself, she may appear much calmer, happier and more relaxed,” the website Psychology Today states in a list of suicide warning signs on its website. “That’s because she is no longer in turmoil. Suicide seems like the ‘perfect solution.’”
The same thing has been reported in the case of other celebrity deaths, too. One example is Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, who took his own life in July 2017. And a few months later, his wife Talina shared a video of him just prior to his suicide, smiling and laughing with his family. “I’m showing this so that you know that depression doesn’t have a face or a mood… This is what depression looked like to us just 36 hours before his death,” she wrote on Twitter.
“It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling,” Andy Spade’s statement about his late wife continued. He then addressed the subject of their marriage. “For the past 10 months we had been living separately, but within a few blocks of each other. Bea was living with both of us and we saw each other or spoke every day.”
“We ate many meals together as a family and continued to vacation together as a family. Our daughter was our priority,” Andy went on. “We were not legally separated, and never even discussed divorce. We were best friends trying to work through our problems in the best way we knew how. We were together for 35 years. We loved each other very much and simply needed a break.”
Andy then spoke about Kate’s mental health. “She was actively seeking help for depression and anxiety over the last 5 years, seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety. There was no substance or alcohol abuse,” he said. Sadly, depression is a silent killer.
“Depression robs us of joy; it’s like we’ve lost our color. And then, if you have an anxiety, your body is slowed down and your mind is sped up,” Dr. Kevin Gilliland told People magazine after Kate’s death. “If you have both those disorders, your mind stays active and it’s trapped in a body that’s in prison.”
Andy’s statement about Kate touched upon one other matter: the note that she had allegedly left behind. News outlets had reported that the note implied the breakdown of Kate’s marriage was a contributing factor to her death. “I have yet to see any note left behind and am appalled that a private message to my daughter has been so heartlessly shared with the media,” Andy wrote.
Dr. Gilliland gave spoke to People about other warning signs of serious depression. “Psychologically they could sound or look hopeless, talk about insomnia or sleeping all day, anxious, or seem very different than how you have experienced them,” he explained. “It’s not uncommon for people that feel that way to increase their consumption of alcohol or drugs, more than their normal use.”
In June 2018 another member of Kate’s family spoke about her to the media. This was her elder sister, Reta Saffo. Kate had always suffered from mental illness, she told the Daily Mail, but this had really come to the forefront after popular actor and comedian Robin Williams took his own life in August 2014.
This is what’s known as “suicide contagion.” In essence, if one well-known person takes their own life, it can trigger more suicidal thoughts in people already suffering from mental health issues. In fact, after Williams’ death, suicide rates actually went up by 10 percent, in particular among men who were around the same age as him.
“If [a person is] already struggling with thoughts of depression or risk of suicide, they’re already trying to get information about how other people are experiencing it,” John Ackerman, suicide prevention coordinator from the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, told CNN. “Especially when you’ve got high-profile people who are successful and who the world views as having a lot going for them and they die by suicide, it can generate feelings of hopelessness.”
Unfortunately, Kate’s death wasn’t the only high-profile case that week of a celebrity taking their own life. Just a few days later, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain did the same, sparking even more discussion about mental health and suicide contagion. Suicide hotlines, it was reported, experienced a huge spike in calls – just as had happened with the death of Robin Williams.
Andy Spade’s statement concluded by talking about his grieving young daughter. “My main concern is Bea and protecting her privacy as she deals with the unimaginable grief of losing her mother,” he said. “Kate loved Bea so very much.” Hopefully, if awareness of depression and other mental health issues is raised, others might be spared that same grief in the future. It’s just a terrible shame it was too late for Kate, who seemed to have so much ahead of her.