The death of Madison Holleran in January 2014 made national news at the time, and has recently resurfaced in a big way. Her suicide made waves, and it stands out for important reasons. It brings to surface the significance of mental health and the potentially detrimental effects unnoticed or unattended cries of help, or state of well being, can have. It also sheds light on the fact that college can be a breeding ground for depression, anxiety and other serious mental health problems that often go ignored. Many see one’s moodiness or unhappiness when first in college as adjusting or having a hard time making friends. Though often that is the case, the University of Pennsylvania tragedy shows that for some, mental declines are more than just stress, getting used to a new atmosphere, and a big change in life. Madison’s sadness and feelings of depression may have stemmed from her grades or feeling that she wasn’t meeting self-set expectations, but it is clear to me that an underlying mental health condition was at play.
She was an Ivy League track star, seemingly happy and presenting a front of having everything together. A popular athlete can’t get depressed or have a mental illness, one may say. After the tragedy, everyone was shocked because by all appearances—on social media—Madison seemed too happy and “perfect” to be afflicted. The masking of social media unintentionally contributes to cases of depression and suicides, gone unaddressed before it’s too late. I think there are important lessons to take away from this tragic situation.
· Don’t assume that because someone’s social media accounts appear to portray him/her as perfectly okay, that everything really is okay—it is easy to hide one’s true feelings or state of mind in that way.
· If someone asks for help, a courageous and hard thing to do when feeling depressed or coping with a mental health problem, do not make light of it or push the situation to the side expecting it to go away.
· Push for the wellbeing of the person struggling; they are probably in a state of mind of not being concerned, or unable to care about their own health. Get them into treatment! If you see signs of serious issues, be persistent in getting the individual to a physician and/or therapy.
· Assure your loved one that it’s okay to be sick. It is not their fault, a weakness, or a sign of imperfection. It is okay to have a health problem and get help. In Madison’s case, her depression and mental health crisis felt like a burden to her, and she saw it as a burden for her family. She did not want to cause her loved ones any inconvenience with the things she was going through. So she took matters into her own hands, in the only way that she felt she could.
Madison’s father James said, “We knew she needed help. She knew she needed help.” Depression overcame Madison, and its severity came as a shock to her family, who cared deeply and did all they knew how to do to help her. Sadly, no one could see or predict the strength of the monster she was fighting. Madison’s story is unfortunately not unique; too many other cases happen nearly every day of college students—people in general— succumbing to depression or mental illness and taking their own life. As I am sure Madison would want, her story can be an example to others struggling with depression, a glimmer of the harsh reality that mental illness can bring, and a warning— which families of one in such a situation should take to heart.
Author: Emily Simpson (Intern)