Kate Spade was found dead in her New York City apartment as an apparent suicide on Tuesday. Spade was one of the fashion world’s most popular designers and, for many women, embodied the idea that women can really “have it all.” That might be true, but Spade is now also the embodiment of a crisis in women’s mental health and the pressure to look good and stay positive to get ahead.
Space’s death is a tragedy for her family and friends. She leaves behind her husband of 24 years, Andy Spade, and her 13-year-old daughter, Frances Spade. Spade’s many admirers, colleagues, and friends have already expressed shock and dismay at her suicide. After all, in public Kate Spade was an incredibly successful businesswoman, artist, designer, and leader. While she sold her ownership stake in her company, Kate Spade New York, in 2007, she remains the name behind the global fashion brand. She launched Frances Valentine in 2016 to sell a new line of fashion accessories. She even changed her name to Kate Valentine Spade to tighten her relationship with her new brand.
But behind closed doors, new reports are emerging that Kate Spade was depressed and struggled to seek help. According to friends of the family, she was reluctant to check in to a mental health clinic or seek treatment, as it would risk jeopardizing her brand. Think about that. She risked her life for her brand. Women are intimately aware that they are expected to look good, sound good, and remain friendly and cheerful at work and at home. Beauty and femininity go hand in hand with happiness and emotional labor for colleagues, family, and friends. Men, too, face enormous work pressures that ignore mental health concerns. It’s time we talk about how this façade of professional cheer has a cost.
Mental health is still stigmatized to such an extent that a wealthy and successful woman might have lost her life rather than seek help. While we do not know for sure what might have helped Kate Spade in her time of crisis, avoiding treatment to maintain the façade of success in her personal and emotional life might have cost her everything. We need to talk about that.
Updated 7 June 2018. Andy Space, Kate Spade’s husband, has released a statement and states that Kate Spade was in treatment for depression and anxiety. You can read the full statement here. We hope that anyone in her position will seek help, but want to continue the conversation about how our society stigmatizes mental health and ignores the emotional burden of our desperate race for wealth, fame, and success.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).