Trying To Understand Madison Holleran And Her Depression From Someone Who Has Actually Experienced It

by Molly Fedick

I am writing in response to Zach Hynoski's tribute to Madison Holleran, the University of Pennsylvania student who recently committed suicide.

I have no doubt Hynoski's heart was in the right place when he wrote his piece, but the more I read, the angrier I became.

Madison's story hit me hard. I have suffered from depression intermittently since I was 14 years old and know, firsthand, that many people harbor many misconceptions regarding mental illness. Hynoski's piece highlights some of these misconceptions.

First, no one knows what was happening in Madison's head. To presume she ended her life as a result of "self-induced stress" is just... there are no words. We will never know the specific reasons Madison committed suicide. Unless she called Hynoski before she committed suicide or wrote him a note to explain her reasoning, it is an insult to her beautiful and multifaceted life to take on the role of some omniscient family spokesperson and proclaim the reason for the suicide.

Second, the term the author chose to employ, "self-induced stress," is problematic. It alludes to her having had some choice, as if she personally invited demons to take residence in her thoughts. If Hynoski insisted on diagnosing her (which I think is inappropriate), he should have suggested a more sensitive term.

Third, Hynoski wrongly assumed people who struggle with mental health issues identically possess a healthy person’s reasoning and coping skills. Madison was sick. Depression is a disease, like cancer, and should be regarded as such. Snapping out of depression is not as easy as "closing your eyes and taking a breath." In fact, there is no such thing as snapping out of depression; a person with the flu can’t just stop coughing.

Another oversight: Hynoski wishes he could have told her everything would be okay. His intentions were good, but truthfully, unlike physically sick people, many mentally ill people function in regular life without their closest friends or family knowing a single bit about the disease eating them from the inside.

I am a prime example — while never suicidal, I tended to my daily responsibilities, laughed along with my friends, performed well in school and even held two internships, all while a giant grey cloud lingered over my normally happy self. No one knew. For a time, I suffered severe anxiety regarding food — I thought about food constantly. I stopped seeing the point to things I used to enjoy. I wanted to sleep all day. When I was awake, the anxiety infiltrated every moment of my day. It was truly terrifying to be a prisoner of my own mind.

When I was depressed, I'd try to "count my blessings," but the concept seemed pointless.

While every case is unique, I hope the Hynoski can now understand that depression and anxiety are far more complex issues than everyday stress. I consider myself fully healed, thanks to a wonderful family and massive support system. Do I still "stress" over work, money, errands, etc.? Of course. Normal stressors are part of daily life. Depression is not and should not be.

Finally, the Hynoski’s happy-go-lucky advice to "talk to your parents, and if you don’t have that kind of relationship with your parents, talk to your friends or find a therapist," lacked of knowledge and was insulting.

Mental health issues carry a stigma, which is why many people — especially high-achievers like Madison — may be reluctant to express the severity of their problem to friends or family, lest they appear weak. As far as finding a therapist, well, that's a whole article unto itself. In my experience, most school mental health centers are grossly understaffed, offer little choice to the type of provider a student wishes to see (in therapy, one size does not fit all) and have long wait periods to get in.

So, maybe you find an independent therapist — or a psychologist or psychiatrist — but is there a long wait for the appointment? Do they take your insurance? Do you even have insurance? Can you afford to pay for sessions, which in some cities run $200-300 per hour?

As you can see, there are major barriers to treatment. And depression can't wait.

Madison's death is a tragedy. What we need now are not friends of friends coming forward to offer advice to reduce stress. What we need is for everyone in this country to stop stigmatizing mental illness, therapy and medication.

Rest in peace, Madison. I didn't know you, but I know you will be missed.

Photo credit: Instagram