Kate Spade’s death was met with shock and disbelief this week as people around the world struggled to understand how a woman who had reached the pinnacle of personal success could die by suicide.
One headline published by Yahoo states Ms. Spade’s death “is proof that money and fame can’t deter depression,” while dozens of Twitter users remarked how on the outside, she appeared to “have it all.”
Mental health experts say this is a damaging narrative that contributes to many of the misconceptions and stigma surrounding mental illness that can keep those suffering from getting the help they need.
“You wouldn’t say ‘Oh my gosh, she had it all, how did she get cancer?’” said Patrick Smith, national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association. “The reality is that depression and most mental illnesses do not discriminate by postal code. They don’t discriminate by income bracket.”
Ms. Spade was found dead in her Manhattan apartment on Tuesday. Her husband, Andy Spade, released a statement Wednesday saying that she had been dealing with depression and anxiety for several years and had been seeking treatment for her conditions. He also addressed several rumours around her death and criticized media outlets for publishing private details of a note left by Ms. Spade.
Holding up the idea that it’s particularly shocking to see a successful person dealing with a severe mental illness can keep others from seeking treatment, Dr. Smith said. They may feel ashamed or undeserving of help because they have a good job, nice house or other elements that society equates with happiness, he said.
“It’s a fundamental lack of accepting that mental illnesses are illnesses,” Dr. Smith said. “I think that is really the Holy Grail we’re [hoping for], ... to try to get the public to understand it’s not a choice.“
The message the public should hear is that mental illness can affect anyone the same way as any other illness, said Katy Kamkar, psychologist with Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Dr. Kamkar underscored the need for education to better inform the public about the pervasiveness of mental illness.
Part of the challenge, Dr. Smith said, is that mental health services are chronically underfunded in Canada. As a result, it’s not only difficult to educate the public, but also to ensure that people who need help can get access to services they need.