Spade’s older sister Reta Brosnahan Saffo, 57, made statements to multiple outlets on Tuesday night saying she believes her sister suffered from a mental illness for a number of years and that Spade’s suicide “was not unexpected by me.”
However, a source close to the family claims Brosnahan Saffo has long been estranged from her designer sister, whom the source says was as a “kind, generous, funny, warm and extremely private person.”
“The family is disgusted and saddened that at this time of great sorrow, Kate’s sister who has been estranged from the entire family for more than 10 years would choose to surface with unsubstantiated comments,” the source said to PEOPLE. “Her statements paint a picture of someone who didn’t know her at all.”
Brosnahan Saffo, however, reportedly told her local paper The Kansas City Star via email that she and Spade spoke on the phone for “6 to 7 hours” on end prior to Spade’s death.
Brosnahan Saffo emailed that her sister had suffered “three to four years of mental illness” and “chickened out” from multiple attempts to seek treatment.
“I will say [Kate’s suicide] was not unexpected by me,” Brosnahan Saffo wrote in her exchange with The Star, to which she admitted taking a sedative before speaking with her hometown newspaper. “Sometimes you simply cannot SAVE people from themselves!”
According to Brosnahan Saffo, her late sibling was “concerned how hospitalization might harm the image of the happy-go-lucky Kate Spade brand,” and had “eventually became full-on manic depressive” due to the “stress and pressure” of her empire.
Manic depression is a term once used to discribe bipolar disorder.
Brosnahan Saffo reached out to her local paper initially to correct the way it had written Spade’s childhood name, Katy. She was asked to speak about her sister with the publication via phone but said, as she was sedated, email was best. It’s unclear what steps the paper took to confirm Saffo’s identity. However, she has previously appeared in The Star.
In the email, Brosnahan Saffo wrote she had tried to get her sister to seek treatment for her mental illness.
“[Kate] was all set to go — but then chickened out by morning,” Brosnahan Saffo said, recalling one instance of trying to take the beloved handbag creator to the “same place Catherine Zeta-Jones went for her successful bipolar treatment program.”
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Brosnahan Saffo added, “I’d come so VERY close to getting her to go in for treatment. … We’d get sooo close to packing her bags, 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.”
Brosnahan Saffo suggested her sister had a “plan [to take her own life] already set in motion” as Spade was “fixated” when news broke of Robin Williams death in August 2014.
“We were freaked out/saddened but she kept watching it and watching it over and over. I think the plan was already in motion even as far back as then,” said Safo, who detailed how her sister was at a hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico when she saw the television news report of Williams’ death which was ruled a suicide by asphyxiation.
Brosnahan Saffo also shared one of the final conversations she said she had with her sister.
“One of the last things she said to me was, ‘Reta, I know you hate funerals and don’t attend them, but for me would you PLEASE come to MINE, at least. Please!’ I know she perhaps had a plan, but she insisted she did not,” she recalled.
Saffo also released a statement to CBS New York and Daily Mail that read: “My little sister Katy was a precious, precious little person. Genuine in almost every way. She was surrounded by YES people, for far too long, therefore she did not receive the proper care for what I believe to be (and tried numerous times to get help for) Bipolar disorder… stemming from her immense celebrity. She never expected it — nor was she properly prepared for it. Unfortunately, untreated, it finally took its toll on her.”
Police confirmed Spade was found hanging from a red scarf Tuesday morning in her bedroom at her and Andy’s Park Avenue home in Manhattan. The scarf had reportedly been tied to her door. Her husband Andy was in the apartment at the time of his wife’s death while their 13-year-old daughter Frances Beatrix was at school, as reported by the Associated Press.
A housekeeper discovered her, according to a police source, and she left a suicide note addressed to their only child Frances.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).