When 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania freshman Madison Holleran took her own life by jumping from a Philadelphia parking garage in January of 2014, her family and friends were caught completely off guard. Madison was a track star, well-liked by her peers on campus and had a good relationship with her family. These facts left many questions concerning why she would commit suicide.
Madison’s mother, Stacy Holleran, recalled in an interview with Inquisitor News how her daughter expressed feelings regarding self-harm about one month prior to her suicide.
“I was shocked,” she said. “She had never been depressed before.”
In the same interview, Madison’s father said she had been struggling with her studies. Madison had always sought good grades, and this could have possibly linked to her depression, though it’s uncertain if her difficulties with her studies had a direct impact on her choice to commit suicide.
College offers new experiences and challenges. This can be exciting for some; moving away from home, gaining independence and meeting new friends can be a positive experience. For others, this can be a completely overwhelming and stressful time, whether they find it hard to fit in, make friends or keep up with schoolwork.
It’s easy for the average student to relate to the idea of going through periods of heightened stress throughout college. Some weeks require more time for studying, homework, projects or tests, causing students to feel overwhelmed. Many students, however, are dealing with those week-to-week and even day-to-day stressors while struggling with depression.
Merriam Webster defines depression as, “a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.”
About one-third of 125,000 students surveyed across more than 150 colleges reported having difficulty functioning in the last 12 months due to depression, according to the American Psychological Association. Further research found that more than 30 percent of students who seek services for mental health issues reported having seriously considered attempting suicide at some point in their lives.
Most universities offer some form of counseling service for students seeking help for mental health issues. John Brown University’s counseling center offers up to eight free sessions with a counselor as well as free group counseling. Once a student reaches their maximum number of free visits, a $10 charge is applied per visit.
Hannah Doty, a senior at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, said her campus offers free counseling to all students.
“Any student can go and talk about what they’re struggling with and they can give you advice and outside resources if needed,” Doty said.
Doty, 22, is an active member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority at UAFS. She excelled in high school and entered college confidently, but began experiencing depression as she became increasingly overwhelmed.
“I became depressed my freshman year from the pressure to make excellent grades and being thrust into adulthood feeling underprepared,” she said. “I was overwhelmed by the huge shift in my responsibilities.” Doti, now a senior, said she is continuing to learn to live with depression, ADD and anxiety.
The National Institute of Mental Health attributes many things as having direct impact on depression among college students: greater academic demands, changes in family relations, financial responsibilities and exposure to new ideas, temptations, and people to name a few. For many, however, depression is part of their psychological make-up, making it almost impossible to avoid.
Regardless of its form, depression is a subject that is often avoided.
“I don’t think that it’s talked openly about on campuses,” Doty said. “The more depression is talked about and given light to, the more apt universities will be to start programs and provide resources.”
“If we can keep the conversation open, I believe that we could eventually lower those rates and promote healthier student bodies,” Doty said.
John Brown University Senior Carolyn Claussen said she believes the lack of conversation about depression on campus can be attributed to the way it is viewed.
“I don’t think there is any dialogue about depression at JBU,” Claussen said. “Everyone thinks it’s some big, dark and scary thing but every one single person on the planet experiences some form of depression in their life. We all go through it and we all need help.”