One of the biggest draws of using Instagram is that users can choose from an assortment of filters that make their selfies look flawless, and all other produced images look as if a professional took them. We have talked a lot this semester about the difference between who we are on social media, versus who we are in real life. There is also a wealth of research to support how excessive social media usage impacts mental health, such as increased risk of anxiety and depression. Now more than ever, young adults and teenagers feel added pressure to present the best, perfect version of themselves on social media, because that is what they are shown on their various news feeds. With the ability to adjust, crop, and filter any photo right in the palm of our hands, we are able to carefully control the version of ourselves we want the world to see.
No one sees our pain, our tears, or our stress, unless we decided to share it. But, in a society that strives for and values perfection, who feels comfortable publicly sharing their losses and their failures? Furthermore, very few people would feel comfortable telling their Facebook friends or their Instagram followers that they struggle with depression and need help.
Madison Holleran was 19 years old when she took her life two years ago, jumping off the ninth level of a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia. She was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and was a member of the track team. If you had taken a look at Madison’s Instagram account, you would see a seemingly happy college student, who appeared to have the perfect life. Madison had plenty of friends, was an impressive athlete, and performed well in school. But what no one saw behind the beautifully filtered images on her social media was her struggle with depression.
While there were small signs that she was struggling, the larger issue continued to slip by unnoticed. Madison’s death served as a wake up call for the Penn community regarding mental health, and her story was picked up by ESPN writer, Kate Fagan. Her story spurred the #LifeUnfiltered series, where Madison’s friends and other young adults started sharing their unfiltered stories and lived experiences. This was another reminder for me not to accept what I see on social media as absolute truth, and as well as a reminder that it is ok to struggle and ask when we need support. For the rest of Madison’s story, and more information on #LifeUnfiltered, read Fagan’s article here.