Media Critique: Depression

In the article, “Instagram Account of University of Pennsylvania Runner Showed Only Part Story,” Kate Fagan sought to inform the audience of an appalling tragedy that happened to the Hollerans.  Their vivacious nineteen-year-old daughter and sister, Madison Holleran, took her own life.  Although Madison indicated feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide, the news came as a shock to her friends and her family because nobody expected her to follow through.  Her social media account, Instagram, highlighted only the edited moments of her life.  In fact, from the headline to the last sentence of the article, Fagan tactfully suggested that social media, in general, had created an illusion of perfection, and this effect could be deleterious.  Viewers are left to read between the lines and acquire a sophisticated understanding that Madison’s unexpected suicide is a product of her genetics code and the stress that comes from her environment.

Applying abnormal psychology to this article shows that Madison Holleran was at considerable risk of having her mental disorder.  Genetics contribute to depression (Barlow and Durand, 2015).  Madison might have inherited a depressive gene from her father’s family, which predisposed her to stress.  Additionally, Madison could have been more susceptible to depression because of her biological sex.  The fact that her older sister, Ashley, once found herself so miserable that she eventually decided to transfer out of Penn State should have alarmed Madison’s family and school administrators that Madison could benefit from some sort of interventions.  The possibility that Madison would suffer from a depressive disorder increased as she transitioned into emerging adulthood.  Research found that 24% of young adults aged from 18 to 23 have fallen into major depression (Barlow and Durand, 2015).  Unfortunately, American higher education was a stressful environment, which triggered Madison’s depression.

Madison should have received more attention because her biological vulnerability to developing depression could manifest itself in a demanding environment.  As a college freshman, Madison struggled to fulfil the expectations from college professors.  As aspiration to achieve snubbed the joy of learning, pressure to get involved in extracurricular activities diminished the joy of play.  Spreading herself thin, Madison admitted that she was inundated with practice and school assignments.  Before the spring semester started, Madison seriously considered quitting the track and field team.  Equally importantly, Madison mentioned that adjusting to dorm life was tough for her.  For someone sensitive to outsiders’ opinions and criticisim like Madison, social media only served as a cut-throat competition for self-validation. Without these compounding expectations and experiences, Madison would probably not have slid into depression.

Madison exhibited a number of symptoms for depression before she committed suicide.  Firstly, she was in a depressed mood.  When Madison’s father dropped her off at school in the spring semester, he himself could see Madison’s low spirit.  During the winter break, Emma, Madison’s friend, and her mother spotted that Madison’s melancholy.  Madison described to them that she felt as if she were imprisoned.  She had chosen to attend Penn, so she had to stay in Penn.  What Madison shared was consistent with what she wrote in her diary: “Help!” and “No, no more help.”  Madison showed signs of helplessness in dealing with challenges, but she was not merely anxious about upcoming future events.  Madison was in bleak despair, and she abandoned hope for a more positive future.  Secondly, Madison appeared to feel guilt and worthless.  Her sister, Carli, recalled a conversation with Madison, when Madison divulged that she did not perceive that feeling dejected was normal.  Madison’s confession made clear that she was haunted by guilt about her desolate outlook.   Emma, moreover, remembered Madison’s major concern was that if she quit, she would be considered a failure.   Thirdly, Madison disengaged herself from activities she used to enjoy doing.  She stopped baking and rejected her father’s invitation to attend an event they had always been to. No longer finding these hobbies pleasurable, she experienced anhedonia, which was a mark of depression.  Above all, thoughts of death crossed her mind, and her physical functions were disturbed, indicated by her significant weight loss.  It looked like she had a depressive disorder, instead of “battling anxiety.”  Additional information on Madison’s interest or pleasure in daily activities, her sleeping patterns, and her ability to arrive at daily decisions will aid to the diagnostic process.

Worse still, coming across insurmountable obstacles, Madison lacked a coherent social support network—a reliable predictor of the onset of depression (Barlow and Durand, 2015).  One time, Madison typed in a text message, “These are the types of friends we need to find at Penn,” which showed that the majority of friends she had encountered were incomparable to the ones she had at home.  While her new friendships at Penn was growing and deepening, Madison was not comfortable being honest with her hometown friends.  Before heading home for winter break, Madison revealed that Madison did not know what to say to them, and that everyone but she had been having a marvelous college experience.

Throughout the article, Madison was depicted as a young adult full of potential, and Madison’s decision to terminate her life provoked a feeling of uneasiness in readers.  Madison had exhibited subtle symptoms of depression, which, sadly, were misdiagnosed as anxiety.  Fagan should not have attributed the blame for Madison’s depression solely on Instagram, nonetheless.  Madison was born susceptible to stress, and her biological and environmental factors combined to produce her depressive disorder.


Barlow, D.H., & Durand, V.M. (2015). Abnormal Psychology: An Integrative Approach (7th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.









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