It Doesn't Matter That Kate Spade Seemed "Happy"

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images.
On Tuesday, June 5, designer Kate Spade was found dead in her home; the apparent cause of death was suicide.
As fans paid tribute to Spade, some people remarked that she had seemed so "happy," and noted that her colorful, cheeky brand represented happiness for so many people. In fact, Spade's older sister, Reta Saffo, told The Kansas City Star that Spade suffered from mental health issues, but was reluctant to seek treatment because she seemed concerned that being hospitalized would hurt the image of her "happy-go-lucky" brand.
Given how much conversation there's been around Spade's embodiment of happiness — an image, according to her sister, she felt she had to uphold at the cost of her health — her tragic death shows that there's no one way for a mental illness to "look," and there's no standard for how someone should appear in order for them to need help.
And, while we don't know exactly what mental health issues Spade was living with, "Depression and other mood disorders are often suffered silently," says Soroya Bacchus, MD, a psychiatrist based in Los Angeles, CA.
"It doesn't always look like it does in the pharmaceutical ads, with the depressed person on the couch and their dog coming over with a leash in their mouth, and them being too sad to take the dog out for fresh air," says Debra Kissen, PhD, a member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "It's invisible. You don't see the cast, and you don't always notice the extra effort it takes for someone to get through the day."

Life can be hard for everybody, not because you're weak or broken, but because you're human.

Debra Kissen, PhD
Because Spade was so often associated with happiness, it's understandable that, as Dr. Kissen puts it, Spade's death seems to have stung in a different way in the mass consciousness. People are still trying to reconcile her public image with the way she died. And if we're to believe what her sister told The Star, it seems like Spade herself might have had difficulty doing the same.
"If you're offering people wedding china patterns, and you have a lifestyle brand representing happiness as the ideal, I imagine it's hard," Dr. Kissen says. "We do a lot of mind-reading in the age of Facebook and social media, in imagining what other people's lives are like, but the human brain is hard, nobody gets to escape that. You don't know what another person is experiencing, feeling, or thinking."
But not always being able to see symptoms of a mental illness doesn't mean that there's no hope for help if you're suffering in silence or if you want to help someone in your life who may be silently struggling with mental health issues. If you know someone who's living with a mental illness, you don't have to wait until they show signs of distress to check in on them. And if you're dealing with mental health issues yourself, you certainly shouldn't wait until you reach your breaking point before you ask for help.
"It's okay to need help, and life can be hard for everybody, not because you're weak or broken, but because you're human," Dr. Kissen says.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
If you are experiencing depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.

More from Mind

R29 Original Series