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Morgan's Message helps student-athletes understand mental health. Logo designed by Nick Birnie.

Morgan's Message eliminates stigma around student athlete mental health

Morgan's Message is an organization built to amplify the voices of student athletes and advocate for open conversations about mental health. It was founded in honor of Morgan Rodgers, a Duke student athlete who died by suicide in July 2019.

There are currently over 1,873 ambassadors at over 784 high school and college campuses. In Ohio, 19 colleges including Ohio State, Marietta, Cincinnati and Akron have an active Morgan's Message chapter.

Katelyn Whittle, a senior studying biological sciences and a member of the field hockey team, founded Ohio's chapter and is the current president. Whittle felt inspired to do so after she completed mental health training with her team.

"This past spring, our team worked together and we did psychological skills training just to heal our mental well-being and work on the mental side of sports," Whittle said. "My reasoning in starting Morgan's Message (at Ohio) was my interest in the PST training. Also throughout the whole athletic community that was the mental health crisis that was going on."

CBS reported that at least four college athletes died by suicide in the first five months of 2022. Morgan's Message exists to help those who struggle with their mental and emotional state before it is too late. The organization is open to all students, but it focuses on mental health in sports.

Whittle is trained as an ambassador through the Morgan's Message Education Program to help facilitate conversations surrounding mental health. The organization provides ambassadors with a curriculum that helps open the door to positive movement through presentations and discussion topics.

"The cool thing about that is it uses creativity along with storytelling to tell people's story. In our first meeting, we did a prompt where it was a poem telling one difficult time you went through, (it didn't) have to be extreme, but just as a way to make it easier to be vulnerable," Whittle said.

Morgan's Message helps athletes feel comfortable voicing their struggles in a safe space. Not all athletes are afforded the same mental health resources, so it is important that they understand how to communicate what they are going through. Some programs have five or more psychology professionals on staff, such as Ohio State, while others have one or none.

Whittle and the Morgan's Message team work closely with Ohio's sports psychologist, Dr. Michelle Pride. Together, they have planned events and built up resources for student athletes.

Recently, Morgan's Message celebrated mental health week with a schedule of events, including a watch party featuring a film on body image, poster making and a yoga and meditation night in partnership with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

"We had yoga night in The Convo, which was a huge success," Whittle said. "We reached out to people in Ping trying to find somebody certified enough to teach it, but we ended up having Dr. Michelle Pride help us do both meditation and yoga."

On Nov. 28, Ohio hosted Aberle R. Bridges, co-founder, treasurer and director of merchandise of Morgan's Message and Rodgers' twin sister, to speak with student athletes about coping strategies, the warning signs of mental health struggle and more.

At the football dedication game, Morgan's Message offered a space where Ohio fans could write notes to student athletes. The space grew the connection between student athletes and the Athens community, one that Whittle said she felt has grown since the start of Morgan's Message. The words of affirmation provided by fans included "you make us proud" and "tomorrow needs you."

Morgan's Message has uncorked conversations that were once taboo for student athletes, and it will continue to do so. It has become a vital resource for athletes at Ohio and beyond.

"I've taken away that everybody is going through similar things and it's OK to not be OK. We all have something that we're going through and just being able to have that community and have that network where we can just talk about it," Whittle said. "As an athlete, sometimes you feel like you're the only one going through this certain mental health event, but just knowing that there's other athletes even outside the Athens community or Ohio University (helps)."


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