Three Pitt students start club to fight mental health stigma among student athletes


According to Olivia Zambrio, her favorite part and hardest part of being a Morgan’s Message Ambassador is sharing her own mental health story.

“I like the idea that my story can help other people who are also struggling, but it’s also very difficult to tell my story like that,” said Zambrio, a neuroscience and psychology student. “It was a difficult time that I went through and it’s not always easy to talk about it, but the idea that it helps others, even if it’s just another, makes it easier.”

As ambassadors for Morgan’s message to Pitt, Zambrino, Caroline Rusinski, and Leah Faunce start a club to address and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health among student-athletes. Message from Morgana is a non-profit organization founded by the family and friends of Duke University lacrosse player Morgan Rodgers, who died by suicide in 2019.

According to Morgan’s post websiteAmbassador Program students are student-athlete mental health advocates on their campus who raise awareness on the challenges facing student-athletes.

Zambrio raced cross country and track for Pitt through her freshman year and halfway through her sophomore year, but said she decided to step away to focus on her mental health. After quitting the sport, Zambrio said she applied to become an ambassador after seeing a post on Instagram about a Morgan’s Message autograph game at Duke University to support other student-athletes struggling with health issues. Mental Health.

Student-athletes are more likely to develop eating disorders than non-athletes, according to Amy Gooding, a clinical psychologist at Food recovery center and Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center. Gooding said student-athletes face pressures and challenges that can trigger or further contribute to the severity of mental health issues.

“Student-athletes often have to balance busy training and school schedules, manage the pressures to perform on and off the field, have challenges associated with the media and peers, have to deal with injuries, experience performance anxiety or the need to please their coaches or teammates,” Gooding said.

According to Rusinski, a junior cross-country and track runner at Pitt, this is the first full college year that Pitt has Morgan’s Message Ambassadors. Rusinski said she decided to become an ambassador because she wanted to end the stigma surrounding athlete mental health.

“Mental health is very important to me, and I know what it’s like to be in such a dark place,” Rusinski said. “I know what it’s like to get out of this dark place and I don’t want anyone to have to go through this alone.”

Playing in a Morgan’s Message tournament at WVU inspired Faunce, a senior club lacrosse player, to also become an ambassador. Although Faunce said she was not very involved in the organization, she said the creation of a Morgan’s Message club in Pitt would benefit everyone from intramural sports athletes to DI-level athletes. .

According to Zambrio and Ruzinski, as ambassadors, they regularly undergo mental health training through the program. Rusinski said she wants guest speakers and current student-athletes to talk about their experiences with mental health once she and the other ambassadors officially establish the club.

Rusinski said she wants student-athletes to know there’s more to it than just how they perform or how much playing time they get.

“Athletics is something you do, but it doesn’t define you,” Rusinski said. “You are loved and cherished for your personality and who you are as an individual, not because of how long you run or how many points you score.”

According to Zambrio, she and the other ambassadors are looking for more people who would like to get Morgan’s message to Pitt up and running. She said those interested should contact her for more information.

While Rusinski said being vulnerable can be difficult, she wants her voice and other voices to be heard as mental health advocates.

“I want my teammates to know that it’s okay to cry at the start line because you’re nervous,” Rusinski said. “I want everyone to know that it’s okay to ask for help.”


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