At around noon today, I read the news that iconic fashion designer, Kate Spade, had taken her own life. While I had never met her, the news of her untimely death sent a shockwave through my spine, as it did for so many others. How could this happen? How many other people are suffering in silence? Is anyone I know and love depressed, in trouble, and hiding it? Many scary thoughts can run through one’s head in such circumstances.
When tragedies like this happen, they’re usually met with disbelief and notions of “how could someone with everything going for them take their own life?” The answer is: depression and mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how old, young, beautiful, rich, or smart you are, depression and mental health issues can strike anyone at any time.
Worse, these struggles are often handled alone for fear of being stigmatized or judged. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen it so many times in my own circle of friends and family. And I, like many others, have had my own low periods of sadness. I mean, haven’t we all? That’s the thing about depression. Most of us have experienced it, yet so few of us ever admit it or talk about it. That’s exactly where the problem lies. Until we can face depression head on with empathy rather than judgment, those suffering will continue to hide it with disastrous results -as we have seen with Kate Spade and so many others who have perished in silence.
People who take their own lives are not outright selfish; they are sick, in pain, and the only thing they can think of in their current mental state is to stop the pain. They are not thinking about the consequences or who they will hurt because their mind is no longer logical or healthy. This is like expecting someone who is paraplegic to run a marathon. Depression is crippling. It lies to you. It will tell you the people you love are better off without you. It will tell you that the pain will never end and death is the only way out. It will tell you that you will never get better.
The reality is, those who take their own lives are in too much pain to think clearly and should be met with empathy. If we all realized depression is a serious health issue, like cancer, we would stop telling people to “just get over it.” That’s not how it works. Often with depression and mental illness there is an actual chemical imbalance in the brain that needs to be treated with medication. We wouldn’t tell a person with cancer tumors to “just get rid of it”, so why do we lack understanding and empathy for those with depression and mental illness? The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to change, and we can’t do that without talking about the issue openly.
When tragedies like this happen they are also opportunities for awareness. Let today remind us to be more thoughtful and patient with one another. Let it remind us to open our minds and consider others’ perspectives. No matter how pretty or perfect someone’s life may look on the outside, you never know what they’re going through. As the saying goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Rest peacefully, Kate.
If you or someone you know is suicidal or suffering from depression, there is free, confidential help.