Hilltop x Mental Health: A conversation around “Destructive Perfectionism”

Madison Holleran was 19 years old when she committed suicide on January 17, 2014. One semester through at Penn State, many of her peers saw her as an exemplar child, a track star and academic prodigy studying at an Ivy League school with no apparent problems. Her social media feed on Instagram was loaded with happy smiles, positive energy, and good times. However, as she said herself, what people see online is “just a picture”. The real issues like shame, anxiety, and perfectionism were buried deep inside her.

Her journey was a loaded one, and after her explaining her story up to her passing, Madison’s sister Carli Bushoven explained some key takeaways that should resonate with all college students.

One comes from an article labeled “Split Image“, which details the lessons and intricacies behind Madison’s death. In it, Kate Fagan states that what we see online are mere “highlights” of peoples’ lives, and are rarely the “whole story” of one’s journey. The truths of people are often layered underneath pictures of parties, vacations, and moments of joy.

Bushoven also explained that as students, we should be on the lookout for signs and what they mean. Seeing drastic changes in personalities, experiencing burnout, or other symptoms should provoke meaningful deep conversations around the issues one is facing. Being there for one another goes a long way.

Finally, she referenced “destructive perfectionism” as a key cause of stress, depression, and an overall unhealthy mental state. The fear of shame and living for others arises horrible feelings within an individual and leads them to spiral downwards. The solution, she says is practicing empathy, and living for ourselves and what makes us happy.

Madison’s tragic story serves as a vital reminder during Finals Week for all SMU students. We should make ourselves the priority. Grades come, accomplishments come, and so does success. But we only live once, and to make the most of it we have to treat and nourish our mental health. Always prioritize self-care and check on others around you.

National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255