Honors students gain perspective on mental health

Feb 13, 2020
Honors students hanging out after their discussion.

Each year, Newman University honors students are given an assigned reading in order to provoke discussion and promote critical thinking. This year, the book was “What Made Maddy Run” by Kate Fagan.

In the words of Assistant Director of Campus Ministry Emily Simon, “this is a story about a very successful high school athlete who makes the transition to college, and out of nowhere, that transition is much more difficult than she anticipates. It is the true story about just how difficult it is for high-achieving students to deal with the pressures of college, within a very social media-infused world.”

The book is essentially a modern tragedy, dealing with themes of perfectionism, social media, mental illness and in the end suicide. 

“It was really interesting to me,” began Simon. “When I first read the book over the summer, I had just become aware recently of how many people I knew who are affected, who are terribly lonely or just weren’t sharing the deeper struggle that was going on. It blew my mind that we’re all just walking around thinking, ‘I’m the only one struggling with this, it’s just me that can’t keep up with these things, why am I so different.’ Where, probably, in reality, a lot of people are really struggling. Which is scary, because, how are we going to help if we don’t know.”

book cover
“What Made Maddy Run” is the story of a college athlete who struggled with mental illness.

Simon expressed a need for opening a dialogue about difficult topics, but needing to do so delicately; she described the difficulty of this year’s reading in particular.

“I wish students could see the long discussions that Dr. [Kelly] McFall and I had about the challenges of asking students to read a difficult story like this, especially since it’s such a recent phenomenon. People are realizing that depression and suicide are a growing problem, not just something that’s staying steady. So it was really scary for us to ask students to dive deep into something like this, knowing it’s a difficult story to read.”

The most difficult discussions are oftentimes the most needed discussions, she said.

“We did think, like I said, one of the most challenging things … for people in this generation is the things they are going through — especially when you tack on something like social media — seems very isolating.”

A sense of community helps to remedy this feeling of isolation and loneliness, which is one of the strengths of the honors program, as well as various other organizations across campus. 

“Just knowing that this community has experienced the same thing, we thought (reading this book) would be beneficial. Hopefully, we’re going to (appeal) to students in a way that says, ‘This is a tragedy — that’s not what your life has to be like.’ There is a lot of hope, there are a lot of good things to come. Recognizing the challenges is a step in understanding that there’s more.”