Kate Fagan, a former ESPN sports commentator, gave an emotional speech about her book, “What Made Maddy Run,” discussing the topic of mental health at the Memorial Union Building (MUB) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) on Wednesday night. The book, a #1 New York Times Monthly Sports and Fitness best seller, focuses on Madison “Maddy” Holleran, a University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) athlete who shocked everyone when she committed suicide in 2013.
In high school, Holleran was popular, happy and very successful in academics and sports. According to “Life, Instagrammed,” a documentary about Holleran’s life, she was originally eager to play soccer for Lehigh University, but during her second semester her senior year of high school, UPenn reached out for her to run track. Even though running brought her less joy, Holleran felt that she could not turn down the opportunity to run track at the prestigious school.
Fagan covered three ideas that she believes have the largest effect on college-aged students throughout the night. “One is cultures, the second one is technological and the third one is mental health.” She used Holleran’s story as a way to give examples of the topics she thinks are important.
“Success plus achievement equals happiness; That’s the equation that it seems like we’re teaching a lot of middle schooler and high schoolers, even if we don’t mean to be,” Fagan said during her speech. Fagan went on to talk about how she felt Holleran must have had that same mentality, choosing success at UPenn over happiness at Lehigh. The pressures Holleran faced through balancing difficult academics, competitive sports, and keeping a social life are the factors that led her into depression, and eventually to suicide.
Fagan has done countless hours of research on mental health since first writing about Holleran’s story in her article, “Split Image.” While she thinks that data is very important, she said how no one looks at it.
“There’s only so much we can connect to numbers on a screen, but when we have a humans story that we can relate to, and we can feel we know someone like them or we are them that all of a sudden the data behind it come to life for us,” Fagan said.
According to an American Psychological Association 2018 report, one in three college freshmen worldwide reported symptoms of having a mental health disorder. In the data they found that major depressive disorder was the most common among students, followed by generalized anxiety disorder.
“I think having one Holleran is plenty to be able to tell this story,” Fagan said when an audience member asked if every school needed a drastic instance for a change to be implemented. However, according to the American College Health Association (ACHA), suicide rates in young adults between the ages of 15-24 have tripled since the 1950’s, making suicide the second most common cause of death in college students. Thousands of schools already have their own ‘Maddy story’ to tell.
“A lot of the college students I’ve talked to over the last couple of years, certainly within a large group, there’s some that thought college would be the best four years of their life, and it is, but what I hear more often is that it is more of a struggle than anyone anticipated,” Fagan said.
Fagan thinks it is important for more students to be honest of the reality and stress of college so that incoming students are better prepared. She also wants to open up the conversation of mental health for it to be more approachable for students.
She finished off her speech with a thought from a church sermon she once heard.
“Notice how close perfection is from despair,” she recited.