I was sad to hear of Kate Spade’s passing this morning. The iconic designer was found dead in her Park Avenue home by her housekeeper. Spade’s death is being treated as an apparent suicide and a note was found in her apartment.
When a celebrity commits suicide, the press goes into overdrive and commentators pick over the bones of the deceased’s life. People scratch their heads, wondering why someone so ostensibly fortunate would kill themselves. To weigh Kate Spade’s success against her death is erroneous as mental illness is not cured by wealth or fame. Suicide is a profoundly unnatural act because humans are hardwired for survival. This is proven every time a rickety boat full of refugees, fleeing war and persecution, arrives on the shores of Europe. To kill oneself is a result of acute illness.
I remember going into work the day Alexander McQueen died in 2010. Most of my colleagues were shocked and saddened by the news, but there were a few who condemned McQueen for being selfish and weak. This was distressing as I was still recovering from a nervous breakdown when I had had obsessive and constant thoughts of suicide. I felt shamed and belittled as it was confirmation that my illness was a personal failure. Now I know better, but accusing a suicide victim of selfishness is damaging as it perpetuates the stigma.
We have to change the way we talk about mental illness and suicide. The loss of Kate Spade is tragic, but she is one of 123 people who will, on average, kill themselves today in the US. The problem is pervasive on both sides of the Atlantic and it won’t get better until there is greater understanding and awareness.
Image via Twitter.