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Photo by Ingfbruno / CC 2.0

The Harvard Varsity Club handed out copies of a book last Wednesday to athletics administrators and Harvard athletes. The book, “What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen,” addresses the experiences with mental health that Penn student Madison Holleran faced as an Ivy League student-athlete before she died by suicide in 2014. 

Part of an effort to start a conversation about the stresses of a hyper-competitive university, the distribution of the book has largely been praised by student-athletes at Harvard.  

The idea to distribute the book was spearheaded by Harvard alumna and special assistant for the Harvard Varsity Club Jessica L. Perillo, who presented the work to administrators in the Athletics Department, according to The Harvard Crimson. The book was soon distributed to athletic coaches and department administrators, and then to varsity captains last Wednesday.

Photo from Stacy Holleran

Holleran's death had a significant impact on campus in 2014. In the 15 months after her death, five other Penn students died by suicide, prompting the creation of the Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare. The task force was created to investigate the causes of what seemed like a mental health crisis on Penn's campus and to provide recommendations for improvement.

Concluding the findings of the research a year after Holleran's death, task force co-chair Anthony Rostain named "destructive perfectionism" as a major issue in the Penn community. 

The New York Times later reported on this destructive aspect of Penn’s culture and the notion of “Penn Face” — putting on a face that conveys one is happy and successful in order to cover up the perfectly-acceptable stress and anxiety a college student might experience. 

The distribution of the book by The Harvard Varsity Club comes at a time when Penn has taken steps to address mental health on campus, most recently by launching the Wellness at Penn website. 

The mental health of student-athletes at Penn is also in the spotlight right now. Recently, multiple reports of mistreatment toward Penn women's softball players by the team's head coach surfaced, which caused team retention rates to drop.

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