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Kate Brosnahan Spade, creator of a billion-dollar brand of architecturally simple yet boldly colorful luxury “it” bags was found dead by suicide on Tuesday, June 5. From an image point of view, Kate was enormously successful, wholly confident, and seemingly happy, forever laughing and smiling in interviews. Unfortunately, that veneer covered a long struggle with mental illness.
I wish I worried less. I think I worried throughout the company. … and still do.
– Kate Spade
In a 2002 interview with Willow Bay of CNN, Kate Spade discussed her young quirky fashion ideas and how she never dreamed of becoming such an icon. Instead, by the age of thirty-one, in 1993, her first pocketbook line was created under the name of Kate Spade. In 1999, she sold 56% of the company to Neiman Marcus for over 33 million dollars. A few years later she sold the rest in 2006 for another total of over 59 million dollars. Extreme financial and brand success was set for Kate.
Twenty-five years after the original Sam bag was created, it drew 65,000 likes in one day under the KateSpadeNY Instagram and had a 2.4m following in early 2018, despite the fact that she no longer was associated with the company.
In an April 2018 interview with Build to market her new company, Frances Valentine, Kate was first asked what it meant to be “one of the most admired and widely known brands.” She smiled and thanked host Jamie Feldmen who then continued with, “What does she wish she knew thirty years ago?” Kate quickly replied, “I wish I worried less. I think I worried throughout the company… and still do.”
So, the question of the day for the rest of us is, “How could this happen to someone so wildly successful and popular?” One answer may be that Kate was suffering from a mental illness. According to Joe Tacopino in Page Six, the letter released from her husband, Andy Spade, states that she had long suffered from mental illness, “Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease.”
In a similar thread during an email to CBS news that mentioned a suicide note, Kate’s sister, Reta Saffo, also mentioned mental illness. “It finally took its toll on her. A very tragic and sad ending to the life of a very colorful and delightful being.” Are these really answers at all and what does this say about the risk of suicide in general? And are these risks the same despite wealth and fame?
Suicide in America
The answer is complicated. In 2016 44,965 Americans died by suicides, making it the tenth leading cause of death. Of those deaths, over 90% of the people suffered from a mental illness according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness whose website also reports that the number of deaths by suicide is rising.
According to Board-certified psychiatrist, Edward Bilotti, MD, there are some characteristic behaviors that could serve as ‘warning signs’ in a person who may be contemplating suicide. These include:
- Getting affairs and finances in order
- Getting the house in order and giving away possessions
- Making a will
- Showing an uncharacteristic interest in visiting friends and family members
- Buying a gun, rope, or stockpiling medications
- Visiting their primary care doctor (Studies have demonstrated that a significant percentage of people
who commit suicide had visited their primary care doctor within 3 weeks of doing so.)
Also, people contemplating suicide might exhibit the following:
- Seem preoccupied with thoughts about death and dying
- Appear emotionally distant, distracted, or withdrawn
- Seem hopeless, helpless, and unable to feel pleasure
- Suddenly seem relieved and like a weight has been lifted when they have privately made the final decision and plan to go through with it
- Talk about how others would be better off without them or how they are nothing but a burden
- Talk about feeling like they don’t feel like they ‘belong’
Picking up the pieces
Following the loss of a loved one to suicide it is common for those close to them to question whether they missed a clue. They wonder if they could have or should have done more to help or prevent it. They can be haunted by feelings of guilt and become depressed themselves. Bilotti cautions, however, that sometimes there are no perceptible signs at all. Sometimes, when a person is determined to follow through with suicide, it can be impossible to predict and/or prevent.
Whether or not new information arises, the fact remains that Kate Brosnahan Spade committed suicide. In pictures and interviews, she will live forever laughing and smiling, a joyful brand of color and simplicity. We must remind ourselves that these are, in the end, images, a virtual reality that may have belied a sad reality.
If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org