It’s rare that I blog something specifically in response to a news story I’ve read or seen online, but in case you haven’t read this story yet, I implore you to. It’s from ESPNW, and while you should take the time to read it, the basic gist is that an intelligent, well-liked, athletically-gifted young female college student somewhat surprisingly committed suicide in Philly in January ’14 by jumping off a 9-story parking garage.
She was 19 years old.
I’m sure we have all heard stories that sound like this before, stories of people taking their lives and people being so surprised afterward, claiming they “never saw it coming,” but I think what unfortunately sets apart young Madison Holleran’s story is social media. Madison’s story is striking a chord with many simply because from her Instagram account, which she used to document her life (as many of us do), you’d never know that there was anything “wrong” with her or with her life. The pictures are beautiful, full of smiles and happiness and images from track meets, soccer matches, family gatherings, and good times with friends from high school and college. From viewing her photos alone, you’d never surmise that Madison had been suffering in silence from an untreated mental illness, that she desperately needed help.
Madison’s story is heartbreaking, to be sure. It blows my mind and frustrates me to no end that we can somehow live in the times that we do, in 2015, and that there still exists so much stigma associated with mental illness — and needing help — or getting help. We’re taught early and often how important it is to take care of our bodies, to be sure that every part of us is in good working order, yet somehow making sure that all is right with our brains and our brain chemistry makes us weak. One of the most heartwrenching lines from the ESPNW story explains that many times, we tend to think that happiness is a choice — which in turn, of course, means that being depressed is simply being weak. That’s just not right.
My entire career is in higher education, and I can vouch for the tumultuous years that often comprise many students’ undergraduate experiences. Part of Madison’s story is that college was “supposed” to be one thing, but her experiences were pointing to something different — and that somehow, that was her fault, something that she was (or wasn’t) doing. Not being okay — not being happy or content — during a time when she was supposed to be having the time of her life, running track at a D-1 school and excelling in her studies, making new friends, living away from home, joining a sorority, the whole 9 yards — was not an option.
Since Madison’s death, her family has been trying to get the message out on social media that it’s okay to not be okay, and they/ESPNW are encouraging people to continue the conversation by using the hashtag #lifeunfiltered to show that social media, and the images and story we project therein, are typically all but little constructs that we create — that social media doesn’t show the entire picture. Though the conversation is, unfortunately, reactive by nature, I still think it’s worthwhile and a fantastic reminder to all of us that social media, and the images we present of ourselves, and the “story” of our life that we curate online, most likely — more than likely — isn’t wholly representative. Social media isn’t necessarily a lie, yet at the same time, it’s also not necessarily the whole truth, either.
It’s okay to need help.
It’s okay to want to talk to someone, to want to make things right when you feel like they’re just … not.
My heart sincerely goes out to Madison’s family.
(Eds. note: like Madison’s family is insisting, it’s okay to not be okay. If you are in crisis, please get help. Among many other resources, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The call is free, and you will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area.)