Maddy is struggling with mental health issues connected to her transition to college. Tragically, in her second semester at the University of Pennsylvania, Maddy ended her life. Dublin City Schools chose this book for a community book read. After reading the book, there were cogent and emotional discussions across the community on the issues of mental health and suicide. In March, Kate Fagan visited Dublin Scioto High School to lead a discussion for over 700 people on these emotional issues.
In the book, we learn from her family and friends--that Maddy was an extremely successful and popular high school student masking her mental health issues and struggling with the transition to college. The book ends with Maddy tragically hurling herself off a parking garage. What happened in Maddy’s life to go from a model student-athlete to death by suicide? This is the book’s enigma capturing a national dilemma.
Across the Nation and in Dublin, there is an increasing number of students who struggle with mental health issues in high school and in college. According to the National College Health Assessment, at any given time, about one-third of U.S. college students have difficulty functioning due to depression. Additionally, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide rates for people between ages 15 and 24 have increased alarmingly since 2010.
In seeking a greater understanding of mental health issues, Dublin City Schools dedicated the entire Parent University program to this topic. To build awareness and help guide parents, Dublin City Schools will continue to focus on student mental health issues in our schools and in our community.
Fagan’s discussion with Dublin was emotional and her delivery thoughtful and empathetic. Fagan taught us a lot about mental health misunderstandings and stigmas, about social media, and how to talk about suicide.
In the book, in our communities, in our homes, readers asked the question--what caused Maddy’s despair? There are no clear answers; however, there are key takeaways in the book. First, a person can be thriving on the outside athletically and academically like Maddy--and be struggling with mental health issues on the inside. Additionally, exacerbating all of this is the ever-present role of social media in our society. On social media, according to Fagan—everyone projects a perfect life like a highlight reel. Maddy projected an image of herself as thriving, as did her friends, punctuating every text and post with emojis. In other words, there are not always palpable or noticeable signs of mental health struggles.
At the parking garage where Maddy died, she left a bag of gifts and a note that started with: “I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.” This quote from noted author Virginia Woolf (who drowned herself) captures the Catch-22 between Maddy and her family and friends. The more Maddy locked them out by hiding her illness the more she was locked in alone.
For her parents, there was no understanding how Maddy’s happiness could be extinguished in one moment. “Think of all the life that had been breathed into her: the hugs, the laughter, the birthday parties with friends, Saturday morning car rides to soccer practice, the juice boxes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off, the tears, the stern words, the I love yous, the endless list of things done for every loved child. So much energy poured into one being: their daughter.”
In seeking to provide guideposts and answers, Kate Fagan places a chapter between each biographical chapter about Maddy discussing important aspects of mental health and suicide. First and foremost, the message from Kate Fagan is to reduce the stigma around mental illness “for all those seeking hope.” (the dedication page in the book). And as noted by her Editor: “The book … is a special work …. Read it. Think about it. Talk about it. Share it. Be a part of changing the narrative.” In the schools, we will continue to include educators, advocates, teachers and parents across the country to find a comprehensive approach to mental health and education.