At around 10:20 a.m. on June 5, 2018, fashion icon Kate Spade was found dead in her New York apartment.
She was 55 years old.
The Associated Press was early to report news of the legendary handbag designer’s death. From the outside, she seemed to have it all: a husband/business partner, a 13-year-old daughter, and millions of dollars.
As is so often the case with suicide, however, this view from the outside didn’t tell nearly the whole story.
Kate Spade attends the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006. Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images for TFF.
As people paid tribute on social media, some started an important conversation about how we talk about suicide.
Let’s face it: Talking about mental health and suicide is never easy. Between the stigma that surrounds it and the struggles some have to get the health care they need, it’s easy to just let a lot of commonsense things go unsaid — which only increases the stigma.
On Twitter, a number of people stepped forward to break the silence around the topic.
Empathy was a common theme in many of these posts.
Just another one of those times when you realize you can’t even imagine other people’s pain. RIP Kate Spade.
Others offered up a simple tip: Check in on family and friends who might feel vulnerable in the wake of this high profile news. A simple, “I just wanted to say hi and see how you’re doing” can go a long way.
If you’re in a good place to do so, today would be an especially great day to ask someone how they’re doing and let them know it’s OK to give you the real answer. #talkingaboutit
Another common theme was a reminder that depression isn’t always easy to spot in others.
Even worse, some people feel too embarrassed to reach out when they need help, especially those who look outwardly successful. “Kate Spade was an entrepreneurial and artistic force, and all of us know that already,” Anne T. Donahue wrote. “But what we don’t tend to is what’s going on behind the scenes.”
With Kate Spade’s passing, it’s an important reminder that money, fame, and capitalistic success cannot beat back depression or mental illness.
Check in on your people. Talk about feelings. Discuss mental health. Open those doors.
Lots of people spoke up to remind those struggling that overcoming embarrassment in order to ask for help is really tough — and that’s OK.
Journalist Ana Marie Cox shared the secrets to overcoming that: reminding yourself that you are loved and understanding when to ask for help. You’re probably underestimating how many people in your life care deeply for you.
If YOU are experiencing suicidal thoughts: it’s ok, don’t be embarrassed, and that doesn’t mean have to go to the psych ward right away. But you also don’t have to let those thoughts just live in your head. Talk to a friend, call the Lifeline, tell *someone.* https://t.co/HAPMsMLf1d
And, fwiw, psych wards aren’t so bad–my second trip was profoundly life-changing; I still think a lot about the people I met and the experience I had. So, if that’s what you and your support team decide that’s what you need: chin up! You will learn to eat everything with spoons!
LGBTQ advocate Charlotte Clymer urged people to keep in mind how their words can affect others during times of tragedy. For example, this isn’t the time or place to say things like, “Well, I didn’t like her bags anyway.” Resources like Reporting on Suicide are great for journalists as well as the rest of us.
Folks, please be careful how you talk about suicide today. Do so with compassion. This is a heartbreaking tragedy, and I can only how Kate Spade’s family and friends feel. Don’t make this worse for them and others by projecting toxic judgment on someone who was suffering.
Another crucial issue many are bringing up is the fact that suicide is a public health issue.
“Depression is a life threatening illness just like heart disease, cancer, or sepsis,” tweeted Dr. Eugene Gu. “There should be no stigma about mental health — only treatment, awareness, and compassion.”
Incredibly saddened by Kate Spade’s tragic suicide at only 55. Depression is a life threatening illness just like heart disease, cancer, or sepsis. There should be no stigma about mental health—only treatment, awareness, and compassion.
And if you find yourself in a crisis, there are many important resources worth keeping on hand, among them the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), the Crisis Text Line (text “HOME” to 741741), and the Trevor Project (866-488-7386).
If you’re in a bad place, these organizations are there to help without judgment. There’s no shame in calling them up.
Finally, if you know of a friend who is considering suicide, there are some simple things you can do to help them out.
Twitter user @erinscafe shared a great list that tackles the issue. “Be the lifeline they can grab onto if they need it.”
Most importantly, STAY IN TOUCH. Suicide rates go down when family and friends follow-up with at-risk individuals. Put it in your calendar if you need to. Send that text, make a call, stop by for a quick hello. Be the lifeline they can grab onto if they need it.