Skip to main site content.
Sally Yates speaks on stage at the 2018 Women In The World Summit at Lincoln Center on April 13, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

‘Get help’

Former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates opens up about her father’s suicide

June 12, 2018

In the wake of the tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both of whom apparently committed suicide, former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates has spoken out about the death of her own father, Kelley Quillian, who took his own life when Yates was just days away from graduating law school. In a candid and emotional Op-Ed for CNN, Yates recalled the date of May 6, 1986, when she was told by a friend that her mother had called with an important message about her father.

“I intuitively knew that it wasn’t a car accident, heart attack, or other accidental death,” wrote Yates. “I knew that my father had taken his life.”

Yates’ father, a lawyer and appellate court judge, had endured depression for years but avoided psychological treatment because he saw “depression as a sign of weakness,” and he was worried that news of his treatment would “get out” and ruin his reputation, Yates explained. Before his death, Yates said she had felt helpless in the face of her father’s mental illness, the intensity of which waxed and waned, but was “always present.”

“Looking back, I know that we weren’t helpless, and I will live every day with regret that I didn’t more forcefully insist that he get help,” she wrote.

By speaking out, she added, she hopes “to help to dispel the shame or stigma associated with mental illness and to encourage those suffering to get treatment.” Depression, she noted, is a disease — albeit a mental one — and deaths from the condition can be prevented with proper treatment. The first step, she wrote, is to “reach for that lifeline.” Mental health experts have expressed concern that the suicide of two famous people happening so close to one another could result in a “suicide contagion,” The Los Angeles Times reported. But as Yates simply puts it, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” There are many ways to get help.

Watch video of Yates discussing the stigma surrounding depression and other mental illnesses with CNN’s David Axelrod below. Axelrod’s father also committed suicide and the two have an emotional conversation about the impact those events have had on their lives and their jobs.

Read the full Op-Ed at CNN.

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


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

Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and champion of the #MeToo movement, dies at 61

A heartwarming story about Anthony Bourdain