Summer Reading

What are you reading this summer?

Summer can be a time when the pace of work and life slow just a bit, affording us a chance to pick up that book we’ve had sitting on our nightstand or follow through on someone’s suggestion for a ‘must read.’

I have a vacation coming up, during which time I plan to catch up a bit on my pleasure reading. The titles in that reading list are not particularly relevant to our world of sports medicine.  However, I did find the time this past week to read a book I have been ‘meaning to’ for a while, and it’s one I would certainly recommend to all my colleagues in the world of sports medicine.

It is:  “What Made Maddy Run”

I found myself engaging with this book on so many levels — as a human being (mental health issues can affect us all), as a former Ivy League athlete, as a consumer and producer of social media, as a father of teenage athletes, and yes, as a sports medicine clinician.  It was a powerful read, a ‘page turner’ — one that has left me thinking long after I turned the last page, the hallmark of a good book, I think.

Madison (Maddy) Holleran was a high level track runner attending Penn, one of her dream schools, as a freshman.  She came from a supporting, loving family, and was endowed with so many gifts. She was the person who ‘had it all.’ Her social media favorite — Instagram — provided the visuals and narrative confirming that.

But.

But, Maddy struggled with anxiety and depression, and she took her life early in the second semester of her first year at university, leaving so many people mourning the loss and full of questions.

The author Kate Fagan stepped into this story and has written such an insightful book on the nexus of youth sports, mental health, and social media.  Ms. Fagan herself is a former NCAA athlete who poignantly discusses her own struggles with mental health in this book.  Indeed, the story is first and foremost’s Maddy’s; but we come to know the struggles of two athletes as we read this book: the author’s and the subject’s.

The impact social media has on our society, our youth in particular, is the one theme explored in this book that struck me most.  Ms. Fagan quotes the French philosopher Montesquieu, “If one only wished to be happy, this could be easily accomplished; but we wish to be happier than other people and this is always difficult, for we believe others to be happier than they are.”  She notes that much of social media feeds this dynamic, and she argues that this dynamic fed into Maddy’s growing mental health issues.

Instagram is a way to display an unblemished life.  We can post what we want. We can frame the picture just so, and adjust it thereafter with filters.  We can do this while knowing our lives are mostly not like an Instagram moment.  But we sometimes may not recognize that the enviable lives we see others’ living on Instagram are just as much a mere reflection of their real life as our own account is.

Ms. Fagan writes, “We are so credulous when we assume that everyone else must be the version of themselves they portray in public, even if we are hardly the people we present ourselves as.”

She makes a compelling argument that lacking this insight into the distinction between our real and virtual lives can feed mental health disorders. The book provides an invaluable exploration of mental health in sport, amplified by social media.

As many of you reading this post are aware, the issue of mental health in sport is of growing concern in our world of sports medicine.  While I read “What Made Maddy Run,” I was reminded of my recent conversation with Krista Van Slingerland on the CJSM podcast, during which we explored issues pertaining to anxiety and depression in elite sport.  The podcast reflected the work being done by the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport, and Ms. Van Slingerland’s own struggles with mental health in her previous athletic life.

This is a global concern. In the United States as well, the NCAA under the tenure of Dr. Brian Hainline has focused more on the issue of mental health in sport.

If you have any connection to young athletes, mental health issues, or social media, you will find so much of interest in the book What Made Maddy Run. I hope it makes it on to your summer reading list, and I’d love to hear from you hear or on Twitter @cjsmonline if you do get a chance to read it.

About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

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