Advocating for athlete’s mental health

Pie-A-Knight participants gatherd after the event concluded. The event was held by the on-campus organization, Hope Happens Here. PHOTOS BY BRENDAN LOONEY

Emma MacDonald | Staff Writer |

The mental health of college athletes is a growing and concerning issue. According to a recent mental health survey by the NCAA, 24% of male athletes and 36% of female athletes struggle badly with their mental health that it is almost too difficult to perform.

Here at St. Michael’s College, a school filled with hundreds of athletes, I believe mental health in sports is something we need to talk more about. As someone who has been in athletics my entire life, I know many athletes struggle in silence. As a first year student athlete at St. Michael’s, I have noticed the school does some things well surrounding athletes struggling with mental health, but as a community, there is more that can be done whether it’s players discussing each other’s mental health once in a while or counselors at Bergeon Wellness coming in and checking on athletes.
Colleges across the country are trying to turn up the volume on mental health awareness and become more vocal about supporting athletes and their everyday demands. St. Michael’s is one of those schools that is trying to end the mental health stigma by spreading awareness throughout the campus community.

Hope Happens Here (HHH) is an organization founded by two former St. Michael’s College hockey players to end the stigma surrounding mental health. Although, HHH started at St. Michael’s College it has grown to include chapters at other colleges and high schools around the country.

Similar to Hope Happens Here, Morgan’s Message is an organization striving to bring mental health awareness to the forefront. Morgan’s Message was created after Morgan Rodgers, a 22-year-old Duke University lacrosse player, committed suicide in July 2019 due to her own mental health struggles.

According to their website, Morgan’s Message aims to amplify stories, resources, and expertise to strengthen student-athletes’ mental health, build a community by and for athletes through peer-to-peer conversations, and provide a platform for advocacy. Many collegiate women’s lacrosse teams all over the country dedicate one game a year as their “Morgan’s Message Game.” To honor Morgan and other athletes who have taken their own lives, teams wear ribbons in their hair and cleats, shirts with Morgan’s butterfly symbol on it and have a moment of silence before the National Anthem.

The organization started in July 2020 and has grown exponentially since its inception. I spoke to the Vice President of Morgan’s Message, Clare Kehoe, on the organization’s growth and immense support they have received over the past three years. “To date, we have over 2,700 plus student ambassadors on over 1,030 plus high school and college campuses. Our organization has Morgan’s Message chapters in 42 states as well as D.C., Canada, and the UK,” Kehoe said.

Kehoe said the organization is proud to bring even the biggest opponents together to share its one message. “It is amazing to see teams, sometimes even rivals, come together in support of our mission,” Kehoe said. “These games are an important reminder that student-athletes are people first and not just the numbers on the jerseys they wear during games.”

Another initiative of Morgan’s Message is their Mental Matchup Podcast which has shared over 140 individuals’ stories. The Podcast provides a safe space for athletes to share their stories of their mental health journey. The reason Morgan’s story means so much and resonates with so many people is because it is one of the first organizations that took the leap to further educate people, while also letting people know that they are not alone, and most importantly that it is okay to not be okay.

The St. Michael’s Women’s Lacrosse team dedicated their game on April 18 against Southern New Hampshire as their Morgan’s Message Game. Darby Rich ‘24, who is a dual sport athlete in women’s lacrosse and ice hockey, organized the Morgan’s Message game for the team. She had T-shirts made for players and coaches with Morgan’s butterfly symbol and a quote stating, “Taking a shot at mental health.”
Rich is an ambassador for the organization and her goal is to spread awareness about the importance of mental health among college students and use the game of lacrosse as the vehicle to get the word out. “After learning about Morgan’s story I immediately wanted to join this cause. I knew I would succeed at getting involved in this. This is important to me because I want to end the stigma of mental health issues and to find ways to prevent suicidal thoughts.” Rich said.

Jeff VIncet, Director of Residence Life, is seen here covered in pie after the Pie-A-Knight event on April 18.

Darby has been a huge advocate for not only our lacrosse team, but for our whole athletic community on campus. Not only is she an ambassador for Morgan’s Message, but she is also a part of Hope Happens Here. Rich is an exemplary leader in regards to mental health and advocating for her peers. She is someone who I look up to and feel comfortable talking to about anything that is going on in my life. In fact, she has influenced me to join Hope Happens Here next year as I also want to become an advocate for mental health.

Hope Happens Here hosted a half time show during the Morgans Message game on April 18. Students added money to a cup with a staff or students name written on it. The individual with the most amount of money would be pied in the face during halftime. All proceeds went directly towards the Morgan’s Message foundation.

St. Michael’s strength and conditioning coach Greg Wilson, was the lucky winner that day! Wlison had the most money raised in his cup and he was rewarded with two pies in his face. “I think St. Michael’s benefited from this fundraiser by raising awareness regarding the organization’s message and hopefully inspired anyone who might be dealing with mental health issues to hopefully feel comfortable enough to seek help,” Wilson said.

An organization with an essential message is a welcomed sign to a silent issue. Morgan’s family didn’t know she was struggling, because she was too afraid to seek help. There are students here at St. Michael’s that most likely feel the same.