The news of University of Pennsylvania track star Madison Holleran's death touched ESPN writer Kate Fagan from the moment she heard about it. Fagan, herself a former collegiate athlete, identified with the pressures and anxiety Holleran faced leading up to her death by suicide.
"Right from the outset I felt so connected to her story and the news headlines I read, they weren't right," Fagan said. "'Star jumps to her death over grades' — suicide is so much more complicated than that, and I wanted to do my best to tell this story in a more detailed, compassionate way."
ESPNW editor Alison Overholt and Fagan first developed a 2015 feature story, "Split Image," about Holleran and how anyone could have failed to see her suicide coming. That article was expanded into a new book, "What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen," which in greater detail explores Holleran's experience and the struggles of young people suffering from mental illness today.
Fagan appeared on a recent episode of "Salon Talks" to share insights from writing the book, and what readers can learn about preventing suicide, particularly in student athletes.
Are college athletes more susceptible to anxiety, depression or mental illness than average kids?
Studies show that [in] student athletes . . . college-age kids . . . the rates of anxiety and depression are not higher than the general population, but they are rising.
I'm not an expert . . . I have theories . . . the culture of athletics is not one where you would answer "yes" to [the question] "Do I have anxiety and depression?"
It is now a paramount topic of discussion in athletic departments. Maddy's story being one, and certainly others, going back to [University of] Penn — Kyle Ambrogi was a football player who took his own life. Athletic departments are like, "We have to get ahead of this issue. We have to start putting more resources here and start treating the mental health of our athletes at least equal to the physical health . . . at least make it somewhat commensurate."
Watch our conversation to learn more about Holleran's story and how to support young people dealing with anxiety and depression.
If you, your child or a loved one are suffering from anxiety and depression and have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text CONNECT to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.