I picked up a People magazine from my waiting room while en route to a conference and was reading about Madison Holleran, a U Penn freshman who was a beautiful track star with a 4.1 GPA who committed suicide by jumping off a 9-story garage on January 17, 2014.
People Magazine isn’t the type of ‘scholarly’ journal I would ordinarily post about, but there’s a timeline of this young girl’s onset of depression. The article is harrowing. And it’s all too real.
You take a competitive young person at the exact right age to be experiencing a first onset depressive episode — and I see these students ALL the time, this is my population, and the adjustment to an extremely competitive college (or grad school or first job, it just keeps happening for a while). And, just as this article puts it, their confidence is shaken. She looked completely different to her family.
Everyone in the lay community says, “no one like this would kill themselves” — but they would. It does NOT matter if you appear to have a perfect or great life, and for some people, that may be a risk factor. Because they just don’t know how they’re going to keep it all up, they become afraid of failing and then, all of a sudden, suicide seems like an option.
People who are experiencing these types of thoughts, the alternative TO SUICIDE (whether that’s taking a semester off, getting a B, transferring schools, dropping track) — is UNTHINKABLE. But suicide is NOT unthinkable. Suicide seems better. That’s how you know something is very wrong. And that’s right where you can lose someone.
This young woman started seeing a therapist OUTSIDE of school, but it took the family some time to arrange it because it was a WEEKEND. And, at the end of the weekend, this young woman did not have an appointment with a physician. She apparently left the therapist’s office with a plan, established with the therapist, to call HER PARENTS if she felt suicidal.
Although no one can love a child like a parent, it’s important to seek the treatment of a psychiatrist for suicidal thoughts. Oftentimes, parents are too close to the situation and may miss warning signs. A psychiatrist, however, is specifically trained to see these signs and provide the proper treatment. The moral of this story is to seek professional treatment immediately, even if no history of mental illness is present!
I treat a young woman now who took a semester off from the same educational institution last Christmas after a suicide attempt. She did return and graduate. But it was right around a transition. Right around when she was maybe going to not meet an expectation that she and everyone she knew would have had for herself. And, initially, taking that semester off was NOT acceptable to this young woman. Dying seemed better. And that is a lonely, terrible, high-risk place.
My condolences go out to the family of Madison Holleran and all of the other families who have suffered a loss in this tragic way.
Dr. Amanda Itzkoff is trained in Psychotherapy and Psychopharmacology in New York, and can help you move beyond the frequent frustrations or limitations that may be caused by depression. If you are looking for more information on depression, please feel free to contact us via email. To schedule a consultation, please contact our office at 917-609-4990..