Kate Spade's tragic suicide has been viewed from many angles: the heartbreaking loss of a mother, wife and business partner; the loss of a fashion icon who changed the way we think about design; and the hard truth that suffering from mental illness is a challenge for many individuals no matter how much success or wealth they have.
But there's another angle that's underexplored: the role of gender in depression and bipolar disorder.
The exact medical diagnosis of Kate Spade's mental illness has not been revealed. Her husband, Andy Spade, said in a statement she suffered from anxiety and depression for years and did refer to it as a "disease." An older sister who claimed in interviews that Spade had manic depression is estranged from the family, other family members said this week, and they voiced serious displeasure with the sister's comments.
Psychiatrists and mental health experts stressed that it would not be appropriate or professional to speculate on Spade's diagnosis, but they did say more research needs to be conducted on the role gender plays in mental illness, whether it is major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
A study conducted in the early 2000s by well-known mental illness researcher Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School found that major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disease-related disability among women in the world, and depression is much more common among women than men. Kessler said women are also more likely to have anxiety disorders, not every anxiety disorder, but the ones that are associated with suicide, such as panic disorder and phobias, and post-traumatic stress from sexual assault.
"There are so many questions left about the risks for depression across a [woman's] lifespan and lifespan transitions," said Dorothy Sit, associate professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, whose main clinical research focus is on the development of treatments for women with mood disorders.