Kate Spade ‘Worried’ About Disclosing Mental Health Issues, Here’s How To Be More Open At Work

The designer's sister said she was concerned about damaging her 'happy-go-lucky' brand.

Kate Spade’s sister has said the designer kept struggles with her mental health a secret, because she was worried it would damage her brand.

The 55-year-old was found dead in an apparent suicide on Tuesday. Her older sister, Reta Saffo, said Spade had feared the repercussions of seeking treatment.

“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),” Saffo told the Kansas City Star. “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.”

It is not uncommon for people suffering from mental ill health to hide what they’re going through in professional settings. According to a poll from the Mental Health Foundation, two-thirds (67%) of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer.

Kate Spade. 
Kate Spade. 

Denise, 50, knows all too well how difficult it can be to tell an employer about mental illness. Despite working as a mental health nurse herself, she felt obliged to hide her own diagnosis of bipolar disorder from other staff in case it changed their perceptions of her, culminating in her leaving her job.

“I didn’t tell my employer [about my diagnosis] because I was ashamed and didn’t want to be seen as a burden,” she previously told HuffPost UK. “In terms of adjustments, I don’t think I’d really need that much. Just a listening ear every now and again.”

For anyone feeling worried about speaking about their mental health at work, Richard Grange, from the Mental Health Foundation, says a first step can be identifying someone you trust to open up to.

“You may want to think about what you want to say, who to and when a good time and place to do it is,” he tells HuffPost UK. “But if you are open about how you feel at work, you might help others to do the same and help create a culture where people feel able to talk about mental health. This is particularly true for organisational leaders.”

If you feel ready to tell your manager about a mental health concern or a diagnosis, it may help to have a member of HR present who’ll be able to guide your workplace in making any adjustments to make your work life easier. Under the Equality Act 2010, mental health problems that have “a substantial adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities” are classed as a disability, so your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments. These can include allowing you to take time off for your mental health, known as ‘mental health sick days’.

But if speaking to a trusted colleague or a manager about mental health doesn’t feel possible at present, Grange encourages starting conversations with friends and family, then working up to the workplace.

“Fundamentally, we believe mental health should be treated as seriously as physical health problems in the workplace. As part of this we would encourage a workplace culture that rewards people for being open and encourages them to speak out when they face challenges,” he adds.

“We would also encourage managers to have regular check-ins with their teams and take time to ask people how they are and if they are struggling. By taking action we can create mentally healthier workplaces that are also ultimately more productive.”

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk