Is Kate Spade's Death Part Of A Larger Mental Health Crisis?

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Fashion designer Kate Spade was found dead in her apartment on Tuesday morning from an apparent suicide, according to law enforcement officials. The founder of her eponymous brand, as well as the more recent Frances Valentine (named for her daughter), was 55 years old. Her death is the third high-profile designer suicide in recent years (following Alexander McQueen and L'Wren Scott).

The New York Times has labeled the modern era as the "Age of Anxiety," and Ellen Vora, M.D., a holistic psychiatrist practicing in New York City agrees that culturally, we're in the midst of a mental health crisis. "We have a lot of material wealth and we have a decent amount of success, but people are increasingly not feeling connected to a community," Vora explains. "They don't have control in determining their work life, they have long commutes, crappy diets, sick guts, lack of fresh air and sunshine, and a lack of in-person connections. Together, that does create an epidemic."

If you've found yourself suffering from suicidal thoughts, it's key to recognize that these feelings often pass. The most important thing, says Vora, is "to keep yourself safe until the feeling passes. Reach out to a mental health provider and also your social circle, and let them know that you need them to be there for you around the clock for a period of time. If you're really not safe at home, call 911 or an emergency room. It's not a therapeutic experience but it'll keep you safe until you can get to a place that's more healing."

If a friend tells you they're suicidal, even if it seems like a joke, don't ignore the situation. "Even if your MO is to be flippant and make a joke out of things, it's the right moment to make it very clear that you're not kidding and you're available to talk about anything," Vora says. "Make sure your friend stays safe and comfortable, and let them know that you're there to hold space for them and let them process."

There are a few practices that Vora has found effective in treatment of depression and anxiety with her patients (she also has classes on alleviating insomnia and anxiety with mbg). "One of the most important things you can do for free at home is to go to bed earlier and get the phone out of your bedroom—that's a really powerful antidepressant," she says. "Exercise is a powerful antidepressant. Eating whole foods and keeping blood sugar stable is a powerful treatment for depression and anxiety. Quitting substances like alcohol and caffeine is a powerful antidepressant." Perhaps the most important thing is reinstating a sense of community. Vora encourages people to spend time with not just anybody, but the people they're truly happy around.

News like this can also be a reminder of the smaller moments of human connection. While Spade appeared to "have it all," Vora notes that even people who appear outwardly successful or enviable are fighting their own battles. "The unique perspective a psychiatrist gets is that many people who seem to have a normal, happy lives are actually going through really intense stuff," she says. "So go through your day with that in mind. Have more empathy for everyone you come in contact with, whether it's at the grocery store or on the subway."

If you're feeling suicidal or know anyone who is, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. is 1-800-273-8255.

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