Kate Spade, Fashion, Mental Health and Wellbeing Op-Ed By Rebecca Weef Smith

Kate Spade, Fashion, Mental Health and Wellbeing Op-Ed By Rebecca Weef Smith

Rebecca Weef Smith is one of the speakers for our upcoming event on 27/06 about Body Image and Identity Politics. As well as being a trained counsellor, Rebecca has a platform called WearingWellbeing and is the Editor of Goldie Magazine.  We asked Rebecca for her thoughts on the tragic recent suicide of designer Kate Spade. Here are her eloquent thoughts.

In an article for Vogue reflecting on Kate Spade’s life, she was described as ‘Human Champagne’. I’m not a champagne fan, but of course, fashion and bubbles go together; outsiders looking in see us as effervescent and charming, swanning around in our sunglasses and having an effortless good time. The reality is those sunglasses are hiding the bags under our eyes as we struggle to find time to sleep. Fashion is a tough world, we soon learn when we are drawn into the glamour that we are expected to put on a good show and keep our fears in the closet. Fashion can make us very happy, but it appears that many of us who love it are also more likely to have problems with mental health than those in other industries. 

It’s tempting to view Kate Spade’s suicide from the position of the pressures that are endemic in the fashion industry. I suspect the reality is more that she was experiencing the same problems that are commonplace for many other women in their 50s. Being one myself I am all too aware of the roller-coaster of emotions that come with this particular stage of life, for many of us depression and menopause are closely linked.  It may be that Kate Spade had been troubled for years with depression, it may be that being involved in the fashion industry didn’t help, and it could be that like many fashion-people she had a genetic predisposition to mental ill-health - according to research if we are creative we are 25% more likely to suffer from mental health problems. The speculation around her life is now up for grabs by anyone who ever bought a Kate Spade bag – or so it seems. Whilst I view the gossip as unpleasant her death also gives us the chance to reflect on our own feelings of vulnerability and fear of mental ill-health.

There are figures which show that the fashion world has a bigger problem with mental health issues than other less glamorous industries, but when we are at that point in our head when we are considering suicide I doubt that it is fashion’s fault. If we look to blame the pressures that fashion exerts on its insiders are we missing what is really going on?

Kate Spade was going through challenges in her life to such an extent that she clearly felt she couldn’t face another day; her life was by all accounts a bit messy. But isn’t that the case for most of us. The sadness for me is that she wasn’t able to call a friend and hear the reassurance that these feelings don’t last forever. That moment when you really believe there is no other solution than to kill yourself will pass. The truth of emotions is that they are all fleeting, the good and the bad come and go. Of course, trapped in that moment we may be unable to see that for ourselves. Generating a discussion about mental health is the most effective way to help sufferers manage their problems. We need education and support systems in place, talking openly about mental health is the best way to ensure that we know how to help ourselves, and our friends and family, when we are up against the tide of emotions that feel so overwhelming we don’t want to continue living. 

Kate Spade’s death gives us an opportunity to talk about the whole range of support that is available when we need to access it. There are solutions, we are not alone and it is possible to come back from the brink of feeling suicidal. In my own life I have sat with the pills counted out and the Vodka bottle open, I am not denying the pain at that moment. I think if we actually discussed that you can feel like that and get over it - that it doesn’t have to be the end – then perhaps we would realise there are other options than taking our own life. So whilst being creative can come with particular difficulties it could also be that it will help us to discover indirect solutions common human suffering. The fashion industry can best help by using what it is good at. Creative minds are more likely to generate innovative solutions, so let’s come up with new ways to create caring environments which support wellbeing. Let’s lead the way to show that it’s fashionable to care.

For anyone wanting to speak to someone, The SAMARITANS are available round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it's best to call them on the phone. The number is FREE to call. You don't have to be suicidal to call them.

About the author: Rebecca Weef Smith worked as a counsellor specialising in supporting those in the creative industries before embarking on an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and developing WearingWellbeing as a platform to discuss how fashion can be good for us.

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