Kate Spade's Sister Says She Feared Damaging Her Image by Admitting Depression

The stigma of depression and the pressure to project a positive image to the world kept the iconic fashion designer from seeking help, her sister says.

Donald Bowers

Kate Spade refused to get treatment for her debilitating depression, which she had endured for years, fearing the stigma of mental illness would affect her “happy-go-lucky” image, the fashion icon’s sister said in emails sent to her local Kansas City Star newspaper.

Spade is said to have killed herself at her Park Avenue condo Tuesday morning, after leaving a suicide note. Spade was found unconscious by her housekeeper “hanging from a red scarf tied to a doorknob,” The New York Times reported. The housekeeper called 911 and Spade was pronounced dead at the scene at 10:26 a.m. Police confirmed Spade had left a note, but “did not comment on what it said.” TMZ reports the note was addressed to her 13-year-old daughter telling her not to blame herself.

Spade's sister, Reta Saffo, told her local newspaper that Spade had been obsessed with the suicide of Robin Williams and believes her plan to kill herself may have started taking shape as she obsessively watched reports of his suicide.

“She kept watching it and watching it over and over. I think the plan was already in motion even as far back as then,” she said.

“I will say this was not unexpected by me,” Saffo wrote in emails to the Kansas City Star.

“She was always a very excitable little girl and I felt all the stress/pressure of her brand (KS) may have flipped the switch where she eventually became full-on manic depressive.”

Saffo said that within the past three or four years she tried and tried to get her sister—born Katherine Brosnahan—the help she so desperately needed.

“I’d come so VERY close to getting her to go in for treatment (to the same place Catherine Zeta-Jones went for her successful bipolar treatment program). I’d spoken with them on the phone (not telling them exactly who the patient would be). They agreed to fly in and talk with her and take her with them to the treatment center,” Saffo wrote.

“She was all set to go—but then chickened out by morning. I even said I (would) go with her and be a ‘patient’ too (she liked that idea)... That seemed to make her more comfortable, and we’d get sooo close to packing her bags, but—in the end, the ‘image’ of her brand (happy-go-lucky Kate Spade) was more important for her to keep up. She was definitely worried about what people would say if they found out.”

Saffo said, “One of the last things she said to me was, ‘Reta, I know you hate funerals and don’t attend them, but for me would you please come to mine.’ I know she perhaps had a plan, but she insisted she did not.”

UPDATE: A source close to the family of Kate Spade says, “Kate was a kind, generous, funny, warm and extremely private person. The family is disgusted and saddened that at this time of great sorrow Kate’s sister, who has been estranged from the entire family for more than ten years, would choose to surface with unsubstantiated comments. Her statement paints a picture of someone who didn’t know her at all.”