BERGER: Scratching beneath the surface

Even young people who seem well-adjusted can suffer from depression

There is a little known truth about mental illness: it can affect anyone.

Mental illness, which includes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and stress-induced depression and anxiety, affects about 61.5 million Americans. Recently, University of Pennsylvania freshman Madison Holleran jumped to her death to the surprise of many. This “surprise” stems from a misconception that the media continues to promote, which is that successful people do not suffer from depression or other mental illnesses.

The media describes her as “beautiful and brainy” and “a track star,” which are accurate descriptions, but they are offered in a way clearly meant to convey a certain level of surprise. In this day and age, it seems astonishing that such a well-rounded member of society would want to kill herself. This is a dangerous fallacy.

People who are popular, smart, talented or who appear happy may be fine on the outside, but internally you never know what is going on. There is a certain level of pressure imposed by society to appear happy, especially when we acquire the attributes that are considered to be prerequisites of quintessential happiness.

Society deems certain accomplishments, like those listed above, as requirements for being happy. Therefore, many may have thought Holleran, a beautiful and smart athlete at an Ivy League school, had a perfect life. This most likely made them believe she was happy and also perhaps made Holleran feel guilty about her unhappiness. In the hopes of conveying a certain image, Holleran may have internalized her problems, which can be extremely dangerous.

It is indeed likely that Holleran withheld her emotions, as Holleran’s father has said that Madison’s stress, which stemmed from her loss of confidence in school and in track, was “self-induced.” And although they “had started her in therapy to address her issues, she hid the severity of those issues from everyone.”

For a while, Holleran did hide these issues from everyone and was not open about her unhappiness, which made it difficult for friends or family to help her. Some of the people close to her did sense “something snap” with Holleran near the end of her life, but Holleran had no history of drug use or health issues and appeared to have it all. Even when her friends and family saw a change in her, they did not know what to think of it or how to handle it.

Internalizing stress or other negative emotions, just as Holleran concealed the intensity of her struggles, is dangerous and can lead to suicide, especially among college students. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, and the number one cause of suicide for college students is untreated depression, which can be caused by stress. In addition, a survey indicates 20 percent of college students believe that their depression level is higher than it should be, yet only 6 percent say that they would seek help.

If you believe you are suffering from depression, anxiety or extreme stress, I implore you to seek help. Regardless of what society expects of you, you need to be honest with yourself and with others. You are not alone and should not feel ashamed. I also ask those who see someone who needs help to reach out to them. Look for signs, such as lack of concentration, irritability, seeming overwhelmed, speaking negatively and constant worrying, and be kind and honest with them and help them seek professional help. College can be difficult, even if you are beautiful, smart and talented, and no one should feel as if they are going through it alone.

Meredith Berger is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. Her columns run Mondays.

Published January 26, 2014 in Opinion

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