Last week, I read about Madison Holleran, a promising athlete at an Ivy League US university, who committed suicide last year.

According to her Instagram, Madison was living the enviable college life: dancing with and hugging friends, flirting, staying up late, generally having a blast.

Behind the selfies, she was battling severe depression.

Interviews with friends revealed a young woman who was withdrawn, overwhelmed, desperately trying to maintain the appearance of a fun-loving, typical student.


It was uncomfortably familiar.

At 18, I headed for university, drunk on the promise of a new life. You'll meet people like you, I was told. You'll come out of your shell. You'll have the best years of your life.

There was no Facebook back then, but I sent regular emails home, full of costume parties, car rallies, gallivanting around the Botanical Gardens at 3am, and tuneless renditions of The Gambler.

But, I was miserable. I struggled to form close friendships at my hostel, was homesick, constantly fighting the "fresher flu", and stressed by assignments.

I couldn't tell anyone. I was supposed to be transforming; blossoming. A party animal, with a vast army of friends. What had I done wrong?

I now see university was -- as was likely true for Madison -- one of the starting blocks of my personal marathon against mental illness. And we're not alone.

Last year, a survey of 5000 Victoria University students revealed 45 per cent were feeling depressed -- up from 36 per cent the previous year.

In the US, a survey of 153,000 students showed the emotional wellbeing of college freshmen was at a 30-year low.


In 2013, some UK universities reported an 107 per cent increase in students seeking help for depression.

Professionals site a variety of factors: homesickness, debt, lack of sleep and pressure to succeed. Others have theorised the depression is compounded by disillusionment: students are told university is a life-changing experience but, often, the ideal falls short.

True for me and, possibly, for Madison. We believed we had to uphold the ideal. We posted some pretty pictures, and told everyone we were fine.

Young people are sold all kinds of dreams. Work hard, and you'll find the perfect job. A relationship will complete you. The "Big OE" will open your eyes.

But life is complicated, and dreams don't always materialise. Maybe we adults should try tempering those grand statements. There will be hard times. And that's okay.

For young people struggling because university, your first love, your first job, whatever, isn't going as planned, there's nothing wrong with you. And please, if you're depressed, seek help.