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Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc
Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc

Kate Spade and Healing Depression

What can we learn and what can we do differently?

My condolences to the family of Kate Valentine Spade. I wish the family healing and peace.

We do not know much about this high-profile successful suicide attempt at this point. What we do know is that Spade was a creative and wealthy woman with ties to both the business world and the entertainment industry. We also know she was mother to a 13-year-old daughter, and was facing a challenging marital relationship with her husband Andy Spade (brother of Saturday Night Live star David Spade) when her body was found.

At this time, it seems Kate Spade was being treated for mental health. Her husband Andy told the NY Times that she was taking medications for anxiety and depression for the past few years. Mr. Spade also stated that there was no substance-abuse history.

According to a newspaper interview, her estranged sister Reta suggests that Spade had been depressed for many years, and that this event “was not surprising." Reta mentioned that her sister was obsessed with Robin William’s suicide in August of 2014 – watching reports about it repeatedly. But Reta also admitted she herself was on sedatives during the interview, which, along with her grief, may have altered her thoughts and understanding of the situation.

Two Things to Focus on in Times Like These

With any tragic loss, whether it is a person of wealth and stature, or someone unknown to the wider world, there are two things worth thinking about: One, how can we protect and take care of the surviving beloved, and two, what can we learn from this to prevent future events like it?

According to Page Six, Kate Spade left a note for her daughter, Frances, assuring her that the suicide was not the daughter’s fault. The letter directed that her daughter should speak with her father to understand why this happened.

I suppose Spade was aware that children often blame themselves for any challenges with the parents, whether its divorce, excess drinking, and suicide. Obviously, the mental and physical health of this 13 year-old will be a priority for years to come. A great book called Childhood Disrupted, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa, discusses how events like this can set a young person up for mental health disorders in the future. The book also shares insight on how to break the cycle. Using therapy like the one in this book, along with giving her all the love possible from those she feels safe with, is going to be critical for this teenager to move past this horrible event.

As far as what can we learn to prevent this kind of event in the future, I have a few thoughts.

Antidepressants seem to be the first line of defense in modern psychiatry, so much so that the number of people taking these medications has increased by 65 percent (between 1999 and 2014) according to the CDC with about one in 8 people using medications. It was also shown that in the same time period, though, the annual rate of suicide increased from 10.5 to 13 people out of 100,000 – a 24% increase, which was the highest in almost three decades.

This suggests we need additional options. Please note: I am not anti-drug in all cases. There are times when antidepressants can be of value, and it is important to work with a good holistic doctor who can evaluate all possible options to help figure out what is best in the short term, and in the long term, to help someone truly heal from depressive illness. If a patient uses drugs, and these are helpful, then a long-term plan to address the underlying cause still needs to happen for true healing.

So, What Is the Depression Solution?

There is no one solution. Depression is a multifactorial issue, and requires looking at a depressed person from many angles. Depression is a function of the following factors:

  • sleep issues
  • stressors/lack of down time
  • nutrient deficiencies
  • toxicity—mold, heavy metals, hormone disruptors, pesticides
  • digestive problems
  • lack of exercise (or sometimes too much)
  • hormonal imbalance
  • unhelpful thinking patterns
  • genetics
  • neurotransmitter balance

To truly heal, proper lab testing is imperative to catch the physiology that may be unbalanced, and then all the above (and more) need to be addressed in a steady, loving, unified way. Medications can have their place at times, but at best help balance neurotransmitters, only one of many factors. A real holistic solution that addresses all needs to be employed. This is the mission of a naturopathic and integrative physician.

While I don’t know the particulars of Kate Spade’s situation, I know with many other cases, patients are quickly placed on drugs, which may work for a time but then often stop working, or don’t really work at all. And then, some stressor puts the patient over the edge. In the meantime, no one ever addressed the underlying causes. A patient of mine recently said that when he first attempted suicide, he had gotten anxious over a few issues, and reached the point where “I just had enough” and didn’t think he could deal with it — and this was while on medication.

Working on the underlying issues is really the best medication. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to healing depression, but we need to do more than giving a pill to rebalance the brain, heal this complex illness, and prevent future suicides.

If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 anytime. These are people who care and can help.


About the Author
Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc

Peter Bongiorno is a naturopathic doctor and the author of Healing Depression: Integrated Naturopathic and Conventional Treatments.