Laker Student Media releases a scoopful on new episode

Eva Philips, Staff writer

The latest episode of the Lak-er Student Media “What’s the Scoop?” podcast covered an important topic: mental health awareness for student-athletes. With 770 student-athletes on campus at Mercyhurst, this is clearly an important cause. Stu-dent-athletes experience more pressure than non-athletes due to the combined responsibilities of team commitments and academics. Mercyhurst commemorated Mental Health Week from Oct. 1-8 with numerous campus activities and events. Joining hosts Lauren Roberts and Kate Hennessy on the new episode of “What’s the Scoop?” were student-athlete Rachel Plumley and Assistant Athletic Director for Health and Wellness Sue Swee-ney.Rachel Plumley is a junior on the Mercyhurst women’s lacrosse team. She is one of the Mercy-hurst ambassadors for Morgan’s Message, an organization dedicated to mental health awareness for student-athletes. Morgan’s Message was founded in memory of Morgan Rogers, a college lacrosse player who struggled with mental health after experiencing an injury during her college career and died by suicide. Mercyhurst partnered with Morgan’s Message and another organization, Hilinski’s Hope, for Mental Health Awareness Week. Hilinski’s Hope was founded in remembrance of Tyler Hilinski, a college football player who died by suicide in 2018 at the age of 21. Mercyhurst was one of more than 100 colleges that partnered with Hilinski’s Hope for College Football Mental Health Awareness Week. On the “What’s the Scoop?” podcast, Roberts and Sweeney discussed the campus events that took place in connection with Mental Health Awareness Week. From Oct. 1-8, college athletic events — including the football game on Oct. 1 against Edinboro University — involved tributes to Tyler Hilinski and other student-athlete victims of suicide in the form of speeches. At the football game and at other athletic events, the third quarter or third portion of the event included a moment of silence during which the crowd was asked to hold up three fingers, paying tribute to Hilinski whose jersey number was 3. Athletes wore ribbons and pins to signify their support for mental health awareness. Another campus event to promote mental health awareness was a screening of “You Don’t Have to Do It Alone” in the Student Union Great Room. Following the movie, licensed counselor Linda Graves facilitated a discussion about mental health topics. To create a warm, welcoming environment, Swee-ney, Graves and the other planners provided stickers and coloring books. The event was a clear success, drawing a great turnout and lots of representation from different athletic teams and clubs. The discussion was the highlight of the night. “A lot of people were talking, and they were very well-spoken,” Plumley said. “It was honestly such a good discussion, where people felt more comfortable to speak up about what they were going through.”According to Plumley and Sweeney’s conversation, the mental health awareness program-ming had several purposes. First, it established representation at each athletic event, which promoted the cause of mental health awareness. Additionally, it was meant to increase student involvement and show students and student-athletes in particular that coaches and the athletics department care about them.Finally, the programming sought to end the stigma of mental health so that discussion of mental health becomes commonplace and welcome. Looking ahead, Plumley anticipates more events related to Morgan’s Message on campus, including another video screening and a de-stress night. “One of our goals in the spring is to host more Morgan’s Mes-sage dedication games,” she said. “Those games usually fundraise and the money goes back to Morgan’s Message.”In her role as Assistant AD for Health and Wellness, Sweeney plans programming on health-related topics like nutrition, mental health, and substance abuse for student-athletes. While she sometimes brings in speakers to give these presentations, she frequently takes the lead herself, which can be very rewarding. “I want the students to know besides their team that there’s people in the administration that are there to support them,” she said. “Getting the students to talk and feel comfortable talking is one of the coolest things to see.” Sweeney also coordinates with the coaches of Mercyhurst sports teams, leading initiatives like training on mental health first aid for coaches.Thanks to the efforts of administration, coaches and student-athletes, Mercyhurst has made great progress for mental health awareness for student-athletes. But there is always room for growth. “We need to figure out how to centralize the information so people aren’t missing out,” said Sweeney. Additionally, COVID put a two-year halt on normal cam-pus activity, so organizations like the athletics department are still working to overcome that hurdle. For anyone hoping to improve their understanding of mental health, they agreed that mindfulness is an important step. “It’s almost like lifting weights,” Sweeney said of practicing mindfulness. “It’s what works for you, because mental health is different for everyone,” Plumley said. “It’s all about you, at the end of the day.” Sweeney agreed and said, “Find those things that give you that feeling of disengaging from normal life.” Sweeney also recommend-ing increased connection with friends and classmates. “Students working with faculty and staff on initiatives — it’s that engaged community,” Sweeney concluded, that should be a goal of everyone at Mercyhurst. The Mental Health Awareness Week activities were an example of that engagement and the positive effects it brings for the whole Laker community.