The designer, Andy said, was seeking medical help for her mental illness.
“Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years,” he said in a statement to PEOPLE Wednesday night. “She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives. We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”
“When you have the two together they are particularly toxic, and the symptoms are worse than if you had them alone,” he says. “It’s difficult to treat them both. Depression robs us of joy; it’s like we’ve lost our color. And then, if you have an anxiety, your body is slowed down and your mind is sped up. If you have both those disorders, your mind stays active and it’s trapped in a body that’s in prison.”
But, he emphasizes, not all people with mental disorders are suicidal.
“The majority of people that commit suicide have a mental health diagnosis,” he says. “But the vast majority of people that struggle with a mental disorder never have thoughts or plans to take their own life. One of our problems is that we often don’t know we have a mental disorder that is severe, and we tend to withdraw and suffer in our own little world.”
Since mental illness sufferers may not be vocal about what they’re feeling, Gilliland encourages the people around them to look for symptoms of depression.
“Psychologically they could sound or look hopeless, talk about insomnia or sleeping all day, anxious, or seem very different than how you have experienced them,” he says. “It’s not uncommon for people that feel that way to increase their consumption of alcohol or drugs, more than their normal use.”
Another warning sign is if the person is going through major life changes. Andy said he and Kate had been living apart for the last ten months, though they were not legally separated and had not discussed divorce.
“Significant stressful life changes sometimes come before feelings of despair — things like a career problem, the end of a marriage, or a physical condition are often seen in people that think of ending their life,” Gilliland says.
But, he says, it is surprising that Kate would take her life considering the support system she had in place.
“She had family, she had a community, she had a job she loved by all accounts and she was even seeking treatment. All of those things are what we call ‘protective factors.’ She was doing a lot of very good things,” he says. “And while yes, being a mother leads to lower rates of people who attempt and contemplate suicide, there’s not one factor alone that really protects us from doing that.”
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Gilliland also adds that creative people seem particularly vulnerable to suicidal thoughts.
“Creativity, depression, and suicide have long been linked, so it may come as no surprise that some of history’s most creative individuals suffered from a mental illness,” he says.
If you think someone is considering suicide, the first step is to talk to them, Gilliland says.
“Ask them if they have had the thought or feeling like it would be better to ‘just not be alive,’ ” he says. “Express empathy for the person and offer to help them get connected to people that can help them with how they are feeling. Help them develop a plan to get help and follow-through with them until they get connected. People often don’t know they are depressed or what’s wrong with them and may need your help getting connected to the appropriate healthcare people that can treat their condition.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.