Viral Kate Spade Tribute Begs The Question, Why Is Mental Illness Still So Taboo?

by Christina Marfice
Image via Claudia Herrera / Facebook

After Kate Spade’s death, are we finally ready to talk about mental illness without the stigma?

In the days after news broke of Kate Spade’s sudden, unexpected death by apparent suicide, people continue to post tributes to the iconic fashion designer online. Claudia Herrera’s viral Facebook post, on first read, appears to be another one. And while it’s a lovely tribute — it dives much deeper into how we talk about mental health.

“My laptop bag is Kate Spade. My wallet is Kate Spade. The adorable cactus charm is Kate Spade,” Herrera wrote in a post that has now been shared nearly 200,000 times. “The purse my daughter carries is Kate Spade; I just got her a new one a couple of weeks ago, in fact. The phone I’m holding in my hand as I type this has a Kate Spade case.”

But Herrera’s post isn’t just a tribute to Spade’s designs, as beautiful as they were. It’s also a huge question that many of us are asking now, in the wake of Spade’s death.

Why don’t we talk about mental illnesses the same way we talk about other illnesses?

“Yet I had no idea this amazingly talented and creative woman suffered from depression,” Herrera continued. “I know she went to ASU, which we just toured last week. I know that’s where she met her husband, who she left behind today along with her daughter. I know her brand story. Yet I didn’t know she suffered from depression.

“Why is it any of my business or yours to know? It doesn’t have to be, of course.

“But I knew when Patrick Swayze was battling pancreatic cancer. I know that Cynthia Nixon is a breast cancer survivor. I know that Selena Gomez has lupus and recently had a kidney transplant. I know that Dave Letterman suffers from heart disease. I know that Lance Armstrong is a testicular cancer survivor.”

We do tend to hear about it when celebrities suffer from diseases like those ones. But not when they suffer from mental illnesses.

“But I didn’t know that Kate Spade suffered from depression,” Herrera wrote. “Or that Robin Williams did. Because somehow society has made it more acceptable to talk about breasts and testicles than about the mind and the chemicals and hormones it releases and controls and the messages it relays.”

She’s right. Mental illnesses aren’t treated with the same validity as many other illnesses. When someone shares they have cancer, people rally around with support. But when someone — especially someone in the public eye — shares that they’re fighting depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, that same support isn’t quite there. Some fans will show it, of course. But others will brush off that illness, or treat it like it isn’t real. As Herrera pointed out in her post, they’ll say things like, “try to be happy,” “just look at the bright side,” or “get over it.”

Anyone with a mental illness knows it isn’t that simple. But why is it just the people who fight them who understand that? We don’t need to have cancer to know that it’s a deadly disease that requires a hell of a fight. Why don’t we view mental illness the same way?

“Until the stigma is removed from mental illness … until society truly, authentically accepts it as an illness … those suffering from these illnesses will continue to hide their condition,” Herrera wrote. “In some cases they will self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. In some cases, like an old friend when we were in our early 20s, they’ll jump off a cliff in LA.”

Or, like Spade, “In some cases, they’ll hang themselves from a red scarf from their bedroom door in their gorgeous New York City apartment.”

“Depression is a monster,” Herrera ended her post. “And if you don’t start realizing that mental illness is an illness and not joke fodder … if you don’t respond with love and compassion when someone does open up to you about it … if you know someone with these illnesses and make them feel they are weak because of them … you might want to ask yourself if maybe you are too.”