Chapter focuses on student-athlete mental health


Senior soccer goalkeeper, Jenna Villacres founded the Murray State chapter of Morgan’s Message in fall 2022. (Photo courtesy of Dave Winder/Racer Athletics)

Dionte Berry, Editor-in-Chief

In between being a full-time athlete and student, the mental health of student-athletes can be put on the backburner, but the Murray State chapter of Morgan’s Message ensures students have a space to have conversations regarding mental health and their emotional well-being.

Morgan’s Message is a national nonprofit organization focused on destigmatizing discussions about mental health and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion among student-athletes. 

An NCAA student-athlete well-being study published in May 2022 found that student-athletes have been experiencing elevated levels of mental exhaustion, anxiety and depression since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

The nonprofit was named after Morgan Rodgers, who played lacrosse for Duke University. Rodgers suffered a career-ending injury in 2017, which led her depression and anxiety to worsen, according to Rodgers died by suicide in 2019 at 22 years old.

Senior soccer goalkeeper Jenna Villacres is the founder and the ambassador of the Murray State chapter of Morgan’s Message. Similar to the mission of the organization, Villacres wanted to create a space for student-athletes to be open about their mental health.

“In athletics especially, I feel like there’s a big stigma around talking about mental health because it is talked about in a way that you can’t be a great athlete and struggle with your mental health,” Villacres said. “Having this platform for student-athletes that’s created by student-athletes is a way to create a safe space for us to talk about any struggles and hopefully to reduce the stigma.” 

Villacres said she was motivated to create the chapter during the fall 2022 semester  because she herself was struggling with ways to handle her stress. She also saw that same stress in her peers. 

Villacres wanted to establish ways to handle mental health that existed beyond the field. 

 “For a lot of us, our outlet is athletics, and that’s how we relieve stress, and it’s where we find our enjoyment,” Villacres said. “When that’s taken away from you by an injury it’s like your life is put on pause pretty much. You have no outlet.”

Villacres was injured for a majority of her freshman year and said she wished that a group like Morgan’s Message had existed earlier. 

Katie Bickers is a 2022 soccer alumna who now works with Racer Athletics as a Student-Athlete development intern. During her time as a student-athlete Bickers said she endured three season-ending injuries. 

“The whirling journey these injuries sent my mental health on is one that could not easily be summed up,” Bickers said. “I’m not even convinced words would ever have the capacity to convey this ever-changing storm accurately.”

Having faced these injuries and recovered, Bickers found Morgan’s Message can be helpful for student-athletes. 

“I have had such great experiences at the meetings I have attended. Student-athletes can support each other in a unique way that others can’t,” Bickers said. 

Assistant Athletic Director Rachel Cuttitta finds Morgan’s Message to be a valuable addition to the student-athlete experience.

“Our student-athletes have used their voices to advocate for bringing this organization to Murray State,” Cuttitta said. “Morgan’s Message meetings will give our student athletes a space to share, listen and support each other through powerful and relatable mental health topics. The addition of this organization adds another layer to the support we are able to provide, as well as opens up more leadership opportunities for our student athletes.”

Beyond talking about sports injuries, the chapter talked about burnout and eating disorders, while also leaving an open space for members to talk about their own personal struggles. 

Morgan’s Message is open to all student athletes. 

For more information,  follow the chapter’s Instagram @morgansmessage_msu.

“As a student athlete, it is completely normal to feel stressed,” Villacres said. “There are things that other people can help you with that can lighten your load, and so it’s OK to lean on them. It’s not a burden. It’s completely normal.”

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

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