Morgan’s letter bears mental health stigma – NBC4 Washington

After five suicides by NCAA athletes since March, a northern Virginia mom shares her story of heartbreak and loss, hoping to change minds about mental health among college athletes.

Morgan Rodgers seems to have a picture-perfect life, an image of what every parent would be proud of: funny, beautiful, smart, student-athlete star so good that she was awarded a scholarship to play for the Duke University lacrosse team.

“We thought it couldn’t get any better, it couldn’t be better than this,” said her mother, Donna Rodgers.

Until a knee injury sidelined Morgan during her second and third years, there was a crushing blow.

“The rug was literally pulled from under her from minute to minute,” her mother said. “So, of course, you will worry about how that might happen. Her coach actually suggested that you see a counselor at the school just to keep an eye on her during her rehab.”

This was followed by months of rehabilitation and mental health counseling as she worked through the pain.

She kept saying, I’m fine, Mom. stop worrying. I’m really fine. everything is OK. I feel good. I’m really looking forward to spring. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” Donna Rodgers said.

But it wasn’t good. In July 2019, Morgan committed suicide at the age of 22.

“I should have known what happened,” her mother said. “I was convinced for weeks that there were puzzle pieces everywhere and I would put them all together and make them understand.”

She says she gathered the clues through Morgan’s own words. While reading through the pages of her daughter’s diary, she slowly pieced together the puzzle pieces.

Morgan described a debilitating depression that eventually ended her life.

“She had an illness that she hid, and I don’t know how well she hid it, but as I learned more and more about mental health and mental illness, she had a complete, untreated mental illness,” her mother said.

The wound continues to trouble her family and it reopens every time there is news of another life.

Five NCAA athletes have died by suicide since March, sending shock waves far beyond their college campuses.

These were athletes who, on the outside, seemed to be at the top of their game, but some wonder if the pressure to be perfect on and off the field was too much.

“Bring the mental health providers and bring them on as part of the team,” said Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.

She believes colleges need to have mental health professionals within their athletic department who can look for signs like coaches do when treating an athlete’s physical health.

Changes in behavior, depression, anxiety, not doing well in school, social isolation — these are the kind of standard warning signs we know in the mental health field that we’ve been able to communicate to the community,” Patton-Smith said.

They have to be there, there have to be sessions scheduled so that we have them there or we can call them if needed.” “Sometimes we don’t know what’s required. A lot of the athletes at our university had no signs that they were in trouble.”

The Morgan family didn’t see any warning signs, which is why they’re trying to do something about it by starting a non-profit organization called Morgan’s message To break down the stigma on mental health, especially among athletes, in the hopes of saving lives.

Morgan’s message is spread on college campuses across the country with more than 900 student ambassadors like Joey Shull and Hailey Mostacciuolo volunteering their time to help others.

“Honestly, I think it’s easier to talk to one of us than it is to talk to an adult,” Schul said.

Together they took Morgan’s letter to West Virginia University—meeting once a week with their classmates to let them know they weren’t alone.

“It is very important for us to be aware and to be there for each other because we provide this platform where we can defend each other,” Mostatkiolo said. “No one is alone. We are all in this together and we will all succeed. No one has ever been left behind.”

For Morgan’s mother, it is positive to come from their immense grief.

“Morgan never reached out for help because she didn’t think she needed it,” said Donna Rodgers. “She was the only one who went through these things that no one would understand. That’s what these ambassadors change the conversation.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741, anytime.