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The Barriers to Kate Spade's Mental Health

Kate Spade's sister shares the obstacles that kept her from getting help.

With the news of Kate Spade’s passing, it was unclear if Spade was aware of her mental health problems or was seeking treatment for her concerns. Reta Saffo, Kate Spade’s sister, confirmed with the Kansas City Star that her sister was suffering from mental health illness for years. Spade displayed symptoms that were exacerbated by the pressure of her growing brand. Further, Saffo shared that she was self-medicating with alcohol. Although it is unclear if Spade ever received mental health help, such as individual therapy, Saffo shared that her sister's concerns warranted inpatient hospitalization. Saffo shared how she tried to support her sister’s journey to seeking help and encouraged her to attend treatment programs. Although awareness and encouragement are helpful when trying to help a loved one heal their mental health concerns, but for Kate Spade, like many others, there may have been barriers in the way.


Reta Saffo shared that her sister would often be close to starting mental health care program and would be held back by the fears of how her seeking treatment would affect the image of the "happy-go-lucky" brand. Although Spade may have been aware of her concerns, and intermittently willing to get help, the pressure to maintain a certain image consistent with her vibrant and colorful brand superseded her mental health concerns. The pressure to be perfect may prompt initiative, fuel motivation, and encourage dedicated, hard work, however, perfectionism comes with a price as well. Perfectionistic people may set unrealistic expectations for themselves, may be self-critical, and may suffer from burnout. Further, Flett, Hewitt, and Heisel have asserted that perfectionism should be given more attention as a risk factor for suicide, particularly for people in leadership roles.


There is another layer beneath Kate Spade's pressure to maintain the perfect image. It seems as though Spade may have been fearful of how her mental health would be perceived. Individuals having suicidal thoughts are often worried they will be perceived as crazy, attention-seeking, unreliable, burdensome, silly, weak, selfish, immoral, or incompetent. The stigma surrounding mental health provides a large barrier for individuals who may need help. Because of this, we lose 44,965 Americans each year. In order to contribute to change, we must combat stigma and reconsider how we commonly view mental health. The dangers of unchecked mental health concerns is evident, as suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. How would these staggering statistics change if we saw the importance of care, compassion, and treatment for suicidal concerns similar to the way we view heart disease, or cancer?

Although we cannot be sure what has caused this tragedy, Kate Spade's passing can be prompt us to recognize the need for mental health awareness, education, support, and care. Mental health is complex. Factors that can cause someone to be at-risk for suicide can include the two mentioned, however, there are several risk factors to consider ranging from past trauma history to health conditions.

*Update: On Wednesday June 7th Andy Spade released a statement confirming his late wife was dealing with anxiety and depression, seeking help, and was taking medication. However, he shared that there was no substance use as reported by Reta Saffo.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please seek help.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat online.

If you are experiencing a substance misuse problem please seek help.

Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)