‘What Made Maddy Run?” That’s the title question of a new book about a suburban New Jersey teen and track star, Madison Holleran, who committed suicide in 2014 during her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. The real question, though, is: What made Maddy stop?
Depression is a difficult problem to diagnose and treat, and there are probably many factors that led to this tragedy. But it is striking that, despite Maddy’s strong social network, as well as her success both academically and athletically, she felt a crushing pressure, one that’s becoming more and more common — for teenage girls, especially.
With the help of Maddy’s family, friends and teammates, who were shocked and baffled by this tragedy, espnW columnist Kate Fagan tries to recreate the last several months of her life not only through interviews with those who knew her but also by looking through all of her text messages, e-mails and social-media posts.
One might think these messages would offer a glimpse into Maddy’s innermost thoughts, but Fagan concludes the opposite.
“Maddy was in constant contact with dozens of friends and family, a skimming of the surface covering miles and ground but very little depth. And through all those messages to all those people, thousands and thousands of communications, almost nobody noticed anything significantly amiss.” Indeed, it may be that the constant need to show everyone that she was alright, that her life was almost perfect, contributed to the problem.
Fagan, who struggled with anxiety and depression during her own years playing college basketball, describes how the amount of time we spend online and finding ways to present ourselves on social media creates more problems than it solves.
“In the past few years,” Fagan writes, “I’ve spent almost as much time constructing and maintaining my online self as I have my real, human self . . . Sometimes it feels much easier to live in that reality than in the one where I am always flawed and challenged, and occasionally sad . . . It is easier to feel connected online than to truly connect in real life. So plugging in becomes addicting.”
This is a problem that extends far beyond student athletes. In her new book, IGen, an excerpt of which appears in The Atlantic next month, psychologist Jean Twenge notes that kids born between 1995 and 2012, are “more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since…