Section: Features

New clubs fight stigma around student-athlete mental health

New clubs fight stigma around student-athlete mental health

Student athletes tabling for Morgans Message | COURTESY OF SAM LEE

Kenyon’s limited mental health resources have been a topic of discussion on campus for quite some time. Students have likely noticed emails about two new organizations on campus, Morgan’s Message and The Hidden Opponent (THO). Both of the nonprofits have similar missions of providing resources to student-athletes and raising awareness for mental health.

Morgan’s Message was founded in honor of the life of Morgan Rodgers, a lacrosse player at Duke University who died by suicide after struggling in silence with mental health issues. The organization hopes to end the mental health stigma in athletics. The ambassadors of Kenyon’s chapter are eager to recruit more members from all teams on campus — including intramural and club teams — and facilitate a conversation about mental health among Kenyon Athletics as a whole. The first dedication games for the organization by the women’s and men’s lacrosse teams this past Saturday raised over $4,000 for the cause. 

Drew Valentino ’24, a member of the men’s basketball and football teams and ambassador for Morgan’s Message, stressed the importance of all students, athletes or not, getting involved in the cause. Valentino believes that Kenyon’s tight-knight community is equipped to start the conversation.

When asked about the current state of student-athlete mental health awareness, Sam Lee ’24, a member of the women’s lacrosse team and group ambassador, said, “I feel like we don’t talk about it ever, really. I feel like it varies based on teams and coaches.” 

Lee and her fellow teammate, Casey O’Neill ’24, both agreed that their coach has been very supportive one-on-one, but at the institutional level, there is no ongoing discussion about athletes’ mental wellbeing. The members shared that their coaches and the athletic director have been very supportive of the chapter — one coach even helped the group acquire merchandise for the dedication games at the last minute. It is clear that achieving their goal will be a group effort and is one that everyone appears to be taking on. 

Alden Heske ’24, a player on the men’s lacrosse team, shared one of his favorite moments from Saturday’s dedication game, when not only Kenyon parents were donating, but parents from the opposing team were as well. “It’s everyone versus [the mental health stigma],” said Rowan Goldin ’25. 

When asked about how they handle the stress of balancing school, sports and life, the ambassadors said that they rely on their teammates’ support and advice from upperclass students when faced with challenges. Lee explained the importance of having perspective: “If you have a bad practice, it’s not the end of the world.” The ambassadors hope that all students will take advantage of their resources and the opportunity to contribute to ending the stigma surrounding mental health. 

Another recent addition to campus is a chapter of the national nonprofit THO. Similarly to Morgan’s Message, THO strives to raise awareness for student-athlete mental health and share available resources. Jacqueline McKeown ’23, founder of Kenyon’s chapter, agreed that there is currently an absence of awareness and discussion surrounding athlete mental health. For McKeown, who played several sports in high school and was on Kenyon’s field hockey team for three years, the cause is personal. “This club is important to me because of my experience as an athlete at Kenyon,” she said. 

With the limited counseling appointment availability at the Cox Health and Counseling Center and no current campus-wide conversation about athletes’ mental health, McKeown is hopeful that both Morgan’s Message and THO will provide all students with resources and support. “I think both [Morgan’s Message] and [THO] came at the same time for a reason because mental health resources at Kenyon are severely lacking right now,” she said. 

The founder of THO, Victoria Garrick, has been a role model for McKeown for some time. McKeown was inspired by Garrick’s vulnerability on social media about her mental health struggles, and McKeown said that she is now open about her own mental health on her social accounts, too. McKeown said that by being vulnerable, we can end the mental health stigma and eliminate loneliness for those who are struggling. 

If students are interested in getting involved in advocacy for student-athlete mental health, both groups are holding meetings this week. The Hidden Opponent will meet Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Morgan’s Message will meet Sunday at 2 p.m.

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