Op-Ed

What we can all learn from Kate Spade losing her battle with depression

The fashion icon never got the help she needed, the girl tribe we all need, to come out stronger on the other side and a more resilient woman

American designer Kate Spade in New York in 1999. (Andrea Mohin/The New York Times)

I know what it is like to have it all, to be on top, to look great on the outside and yet be deeply broken inside. Like many others, I have been in the dark hole of despair and depression. It’s isolating. It’s lonely and it can suck you into a place from whence you may never return. Depression is real. Thoughts of suicide, grief and mourning are more common than we know.

Kate Spade, world-famous preppy fashion bag designer and role model for women seeking to build a global fashion brand, took her own life on Tuesday in New York City, authorities said. Spade’s older sister suggested she had been battling mental health issues and depression for years. And her husband, Andy Spade, in his first public comments about her death said she suffered from severe depression and anxiety. News of her death spread quickly on social media, with famous women and men alike tweeting about their own battles with depression, and expressing sadness for her pain and the loss of her gifts to the world.

This tragedy presents the rest of us with yet another teachable moment: Report after report indicates that our young people, particularly our girls are more depressed than ever, and suicide among children and teens has reached its highest rates ever. And that we, adults of all generations are lonelier than ever.

The question we must ask is: Why?

We have a SILENT killer among us: It’s called disconnection, dread, loneliness, bullying, social media and devices, the pressure to LIE about who we are and what we want on social media 24/7. The pressure for kids and teens is greater than it was for those of us born in the 20th century. It’s all about being seen and being seen as important, as celebrated and as venerated as opposed to being authentic.

Case in point: I know a friend who got divorced a few years ago — a high profile, model-celebrity couple, and if you looked at their Instagram accounts you would believe they were the happiest couple on earth. But it was all a sham. A mask. A veil. Wealth. Good looks. Fame. Cars. Homes. TV shows. Luxury travel will never fill the void or be a substitute for the LOVE and ACCEPTANCE that we all crave. We need people like we need the air that we breathe. We need love like oxygen to our souls. And when we have been hiding hurts. Carrying the load. We inevitably crumble and fall. That’s what I believe happened to Kate Spade as she took her own life at age 55.

I have a closet full of Kate Spade bags and products. I connected with her sunny, preppy brand. I am so NOT a Gucci or Prada girl. I am simple. Preppy. Bright. As was she. You see, at our core, we are simple: We need love. We need connection. We need a TRIBE. We need a FAMILY. One that cares for us, for real. One that SHOWS UP for us.

I am hurt today because Kate clearly struggled according to news reports with serious depression and her personal demons. I have seen the statements from her family and friends. They are devastated. Shocked. Most family members of suicides are. They never see it coming, or IF they did, they didn’t know how to respond, hoping it would go away if they ignored it.

Author and columnist Sophia A. Nelson. (ArthurChristine)

Friends, life can be hell. And it can also be beautiful. I know. I have been on both the beautiful and on the hell side. It only takes the right trigger. The right emotional blow. Mine was heartbreak. I stayed too long in a relationship that was not healthy. When I had to face the loss of the man I loved, the babies I wanted, and that my prime years were gone (I was by then 45), I was inconsolable. I lost time I could never get back. And the downward emotional spiral began. And there was more that had been brewing quietly inside of me for years — a traumatic childhood, a broken relationship with my father, feeling constant pressure to succeed, to be the best at all times. Living life for everyone but for me. I just hit my tipping point — and I tipped over. I couldn’t get back up. But I had an amazing tribe of friends who rescued me from me, and they got me help, they encouraged me and loved me back to life. And today I am thriving in every way. So, what can we do if we ever find ourselves in the dark place, or a loved one or dear friend?

    1. Know that you are worth fighting for. You have to ask for help. Because there is help available for you at the local church, fire station, community center, even at your job through human resources. You cannot go at depression alone. It will consume you.

    2. You have to be connected to good reliable people, a tribe, a family outside of your family, a group of people you empower to love and look out for you. Let them help you.

    3. For friends and family of people struggling with depression and suicide: People are in pain. They are not crazy. They are not bad. They need your love and support. You have to love them enough to get involved. Listen to their pain. Let them talk, and if that doesn’t help, get them or your family professional intervention. But you must do something to help, even if they say they do not want your help. Go the extra mile. Get involved.

In the final analysis, all of us are carrying too much. Giving too much. Doing too much. We are burnt out emotionally and we are not taking the time to recharge. We are not taking the time to share our stories of overcoming pain, grief and mourning to help others get on the other side. We are not connecting with other people who need us, or who we need. I used my pain to pen a book, The Woman Code. It was born out grief that I turned into gratitude. It is now considered one of the top inspirational books every woman should read. I took my pain and turned it into a story of PURPOSE that has blessed tens of thousands of women across the globe from Sydney, to Winnipeg, to Nairobi, to Johannesburg, and the United States. My point is–You can get through the pain, the darkness, the isolation. YOU CAN. And you can use it as a tool to help others get on the other side. I wish that Kate could have gotten the help she needed, the girl tribe that we all need, and have come out stronger on the other side a more resilient woman. Let her tragedy become our teacher.

May God bless Kate Spade’s family and friends.

Sophia A. Nelson, Esq. is an award-winning author and journalist. She is author of the global best-selling book, The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Keys to Unlock Your Life (2014). Follow her on Twitter here.

If you or anyone you know needs help, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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