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Breaking the Silence: Kate Spade isn’t the only one

Op-Ed: Kate Spade’s death is a tragedy. Do you know her experience isn’t an anomaly? There exist women entrepreneurs who share her walk. I am one of them.

I understand maintaining the appearance of success while working to navigate personal shame and shielding oneself from stigma.

It only took a few hours after reading about Kate Spade’s death for tears to trickle down my cheeks. Yet, I wasn’t crying over her passing. It was the memory of myself, two days prior to her death, crying uncontrollably on my bedroom floor that did it.

I realized I could be Kate.

The crippling impact of worries around not hitting my sales and marketing goals due to my mind racing…

The mental and emotional overload confining me to bed…

The daily tussle with the beast that props itself on my chest making it a feat to climb out of bed and face the day…

The morning of my fit, while ruminating on all that I perceived as wrong in my life, my chest tightened.

With each heartbeat, I experienced a heavy pressure. It felt as if my heart attempted to flee its confines.

Tears streamed down my face as I struggled for air.

I can’t breathe.

Breathe in…One, two, three, four.

Hold…One, two, three, four

Breathe out…One, two, three, four

Hold…One, two, three, four.

I repeated this four-square breathing technique for two more rounds. A handy strategy I learned during my first 30-day hiatus from entrepreneurship.

Imagine…

You’re a few months into your first year of business, still basking in that new smell of a dream fulfilled.

And finally you hit your first five-figure revenue goal when your mind and body turn on you.

The fatigue weighs you down like a stack of bricks.

Your thoughts swirl you down into an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole.

A small raspy voice whispers, “Kill Yourself”

Simultaneously, you feel a tingly sensation on the inside of your wrists- they’re beckoning for a release. One that could only happen through slitting them.

Maybe my family would be better off without me…the only clear thought that breaks through the chaos. You entertain it for a bit.

I could be Kate.

Explaining this episode to my therapist, her face dropped.

“Is she finally exasperated by me and my non-compliance?” I thought to myself.

“Quanisha, it’s been months. You didn’t take a break after the intensity of graduate school. You jumped right into this business. Your body and brain are breaking down. It’s time to rest.”

Rest, that sounds good right about now. But can I afford it..would my business recover?

She pauses, “I think you should consider a residential treatment center as a timeout.”

I can’t go on like this. She’s right. I’m no good to anyone else if I’m not okay.

I trust that it’ll all work out.

My experience in a renowned, semi-restricted, center with rustic, ranch-style cottages as our living quarters is a story for another day. With only one other resident there solely for mental health treatment, let’s just say for me- as a woman who doesn’t struggle with substance abuse and survived a mother who did- that facility was a hotbed of triggers for me.

One benefit of having this experience reveal a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is I gained a useful tool for my anxiety. The box breathing technique has become a staple in my life.


After my crying episode, I contemplated another hiatus. I wanted to escape from my life.

From the stress I just endured, my mind and body both felt off balanced. I prayed for relief.

Almost instantly, I remembered I already possessed a solution- “Oh yeah, my medicine.”

Thank, God!

Within thirty minutes, the Ativan cleared my head and calmed my nerves. I had enough energy to shower.

An hour later, I felt comfortable enough to lead my noon client session. I considered canceling it if I couldn’t get myself together in time.

This is my daily battle to exist.


My business hasn’t generated millions in revenue (yet) like Kate’s enterprises, but I understand living with a mental illness, both treated and untreated.

I understand maintaining the appearance of success while working to navigate personal shame and shielding oneself from stigma.

In recent years, a number of business founders have committed suicide. This phenomenon even has its own name, “the dark side of startups.

While suicide is tragic for all, there’s been less coverage and conversations of prominent women entrepreneurs taking their own lives or dealing with entrepreneur burnout and depression.

Is it that these women don’t exist or do women carry the burden differently?

Perhaps Kate’s suicide note, if ever published, will reveal her state of mind in the moments leading to her death. However, it’s clear what really killed her: An untreated mental illness.

What’s being overshadowed by the tragic manner in which Kate died is the fact that Shame and Silence were the true killers.

Shame destroys. It leaves women like Kate afraid to seek treatment or publicly acknowledge their conditions in an effort to avoid potentially devastating blowback from society, and in this case, consumers.

For a period in my life, shame caused me to live in a state of denial.

It’s worth asking, with women-owned businesses on the rise, will we see more instances of women experiencing the devastating effects of Founder’s Blues?

Entrepreneurship isn’t necessarily an indicator for suicide. Analyzing the few studies existing on entrepreneurs, researchers found entrepreneurship can provide a buffering role of social support and a high level of control over their work.

Despite there being no evidence that entrepreneurs commit suicide more often than employees in high pressured jobs, the increasing deaths of male founders led to a call to examine if “the pressures of being a founder, the pressure of our community’s relentless pursuit of greatness, in some way contributed to their deaths.”

Should we not consider the same examination for women entrepreneurs?

American women, specifically White non-Hispanic American women, are experiencing higher mortality and morbidity rates due to a collection of factors researchers are calling “deaths of despair.”

These deaths are attributed to overdose, suicide and alcohol abuse. This US health disadvantage, while more pronounced for White non-Hispanic woman, affects women of all races and ethnicities.

What do we do with all this information about women dying from despair?

While it behooves policymakers to eliminate the complex societal factors leading to deaths of despair, such as the growing opioid crisis, we must also understand these factors are symptoms.

This spike in mortality rates are associated with particular behaviors: abuse of drugs and inadequate attention to mental health conditions.

I make an effort to not be a victim of circumstance and pursue accessible solutions to maintain my life. Below are three measures I employ to manage my mental disorders and combat suicidal ideation:

1. Support Systems

Support systems are recommended for those suffering from depression and mood disorders. They counter the isolation exacerbating these conditions. Shame decreases by opening up about personal experiences.

In my life, friends and family play a crucial role. They listen to me during my worst moments.

They relieve me of motherhood duties and gift services like massages and house cleaning.

Also, my husband and friends constantly remind of the importance of self-care because it’s so easy for me to overwork- my main trigger for a breakdown.

Most importantly, they remind me that I am loved and needed.

2. Mental Health Treatment

Though support systems are helpful, it’s a huge responsibility to put the weight of severe mental health conditions on friends and family. They are often ill equipped to provide consistent and tailored strategies for deeper levels of recovery.

Unfortunately, women are often shamed for seeking help. In my past, a few family members fueled my shame as they questioned my reasoning for seeking professional help and concluded my problems were due to character flaws or a lack of faith.

You just have to be mentally stronger.

Turn to God and pray about it.

You need to just get over it.

Stop being lazy.

A therapist can be the one person who helps you separate the mental condition from your identity. She can be the only one to inform that it’s okay to not do it all- an option some women don’t know is available to them.

Additionally, psychiatric care & medicine are options to alleviate and lessen symptoms of chronic depression, anxiety, and mood swings.

3. Speaking Up

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame cannot survive…Shame is a social concept-it happens between people-it also heals best between people. -Dr. Brene Brown

To be sure, Kate Spade’s success, and many other founders like her, are examples that women with mental health conditions can excel in work and life.

Also, they are true examples that women can have success and pain.

As I went to social media to share my truth- that I could be Kate. Other women entrepreneurs revealed their battles with mental health conditions.

I saw myself in their stories.

Jennifer, a Yoga and Meditation Teacher, shared:

“I also have a history of attempted suicide and I’ve done a lot of therapy, at least, to overcome the sense that that is the best option. I’m grateful for the tools I’ve collected over the years. But I also recognize the roots of that mental illness are still showing up as I try to grow my business and put myself out there.
It manifests in various shades of imposter syndrome, fear of comments about my appearance, fear of people telling me that I’ve got it all wrong, a fear that there are people out there that are hoping I fall on my face and can’t wait for me to do it.
It makes me feel like everything I do has to be to a very high standard, and I put a lot of pressure on myself….
So yea, I totally, 100% get why someone at Kate Spade’s level would feel even more pressure. I can only imagine being at that level of reach b/c the more people you touch, the more likely someone is going to have something negative to say. And right now the discourse in our culture is at rock bottom.”

Crystal, owner of a coaching practice for healthcare and teaching professionals, revealed what suicidal thoughts meant for her life and business:

“I’ve battled depression/suicidal ideation since I was 10 years old. And the amount of pressure to continue to plug on and succeed and achieve just makes it worse.
I tend to get fired up and excited about projects, sketch them out, then plunge into a depression due to a self-imposed standard that I know I’ll never achieve.
After years of intensive therapy and my own deep, personal work, I try to channel the depression/dark thoughts into the reframe that it’s not my life that needs to end, but that my soul is telling me I need to let go and pivot into something better.
My suicidal thoughts are now my wake up call that I need to check in with myself and ensure I’m aligned and on the path I want to be.”

To Break the Silence and end the shame associated with mental health conditions, we must share and see ourselves in each other’s stories.

Empathy is the antidote to shame.

Discussing the sources of our stress as well as sharing experiences of depression and suicidal ideation counter the silence that serves to harm and kill us. Talking about suicidal feelings with someone can decrease the chance of it happening.

Mental wellness is an ongoing battle. Death by suicide is a real risk factor for me.

I could be Kate.

What continues to save my life is a conscious commitment to fight the urge & to not allow suicide to be an option. When I’ve been too weak to fight, I (or my family) pursued temporary hospital stays for my safety.

Conversations with brave women who share their stories and their approaches to mental wellness allows me to know long-term recovery is possible.

Furthermore, the women who reach out to me when I speak up inspire me to keep going. Aligned with Marianne Williamson’s quote, Our Deepest Fear, I fully believe as I am liberated from my own fear and shame, my presence automatically liberates others.

As women entrepreneurs, we don’t have to isolate ourselves due to shame and to avoid stigma. Fostering safe spaces, whether online or in-person, where we stand in our truths is a huge step towards prevention.

I share my truth to combat shame, to spit in the face of stigma, and to let other women suffering in silence know- I see you, I hear you and I know your walk.

Listen. Hold Space. Encourage. Support.

Share below: How do you intend to break the silence?

Here’s the BEST strategy I employ to manage my mental disorders and combat suicidal ideation (click below)


If you or someone you know is in a crisis, get help immediately. You can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1.800.273.TALK (8255)


Quanisha Green, MSS is an international leadership development strategist and the Founder of Black Woman CEO- a global hub that delivers high impact and culturally relevant business training. Green has been a past contributor and consultant for the Power Networking Conference, the University of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Department of State. Her past work has been featured on National Public Radio (NPR), The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more. Visit, www.QuanishaSmith.com