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Recognizing the importance of athletes’ mental health

Criminology, criminal justice student on ASU women’s lacrosse team forms local chapter of Morgan’s Message

Brynn Holohan posing with arms crossed and smiling in her sports uniform against a white backdrop.

Brynn Holohan, a midfielder for ASU's women's lacrosse team before graduating in May 2023 with a Bachelor of Science in criminology and criminal justice, founded the ASU chapter of Morgan's Message, where student-athletes can discuss their mental health concerns and learn about available assistance.

May 22, 2023

As an Arizona State University student-athlete, Brynn Holohan knew athletes contend with the physical obstacles to success.

Injuries and conditioning challenges are among the barriers to victory on the field or in the arena. But the death of a fellow women’s lacrosse player who suffered with depression reminded Holohan about less-talked-about struggles athletes can have regarding their mental health.

Morgan Rodgers’ life — and death at 22 — motivated Holohan, a midfielder, to start a group where athletes with questions about mental health challenges can meet in a safe environment to share, support each other and learn where to get assistance.

Holohan, of Northbrook, Illinois, received a Bachelor of Science in criminology and criminal justice this month from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Last summer, she learned about Rodgers, a Duke University student-athlete who died in 2019, and Morgan’s Message. The organization, named for Rodgers and started by her family, has chapters at high schools, colleges and universities. It aims to destigmatize mental health issues in the student-athlete community and empower those who may be suffering in silence. Student-athletes who attend meetings hear and tell their stories and learn about access to resources and expertise toward improving their mental health. 

“Morgan struggled with her mental health and unfortunately lost her battle with depression, and took her life as a result,” Holohan said. “Her family wanted to prevent it happening to other athletes and other people who are struggling.”

Holohan said, at first, she was hesitant to undertake the work to become an ambassador for the program, but last summer she changed her mind and decided to go ahead. She and teammate Lexi Guerin, a sophomore midfielder, brought the idea of forming the ASU chapter to the leadership of Sun Devil Athletics (SDA), which gave approval and support.

Bill Kennedy, ASU associate athletic director, said SDA encourages these efforts as part of the university's emphasis on mental health and well-being.

“This effort has absolutely been a partnership with our student-athletes through our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC, as well as campus departments such as ASU Counseling Services and the ASU Wellness office,” Kennedy said. “Through SAAC, many dedicated and passionate student-athletes have helped to advance and improve the mental health and well-being programming offered. One of those dedicated and passionate student-athletes has been Brynn Holohan.”

Brynn Holohan, lacrosse, ASU, criminology, criminal justice, Morgan's Message, mental health

Brynn Holohan on the field as a member of ASU's women's lacrosse team. She founded the ASU chapter of Morgan's Message with teammate Lexi Guerin, a then-sophomore midfielder.

Kennedy said Holohan and Guerin presented the idea as “another item in the menu of mental health offerings” to benefit student-athletes.

In August, the chapter formed and started monthly meetings.

“It started as a small group but grew in both semesters,” Holohan said. “The meetings consisted of a PowerPoint presentation about Morgan’s Message that offered education on different topics.”

One topic dealt with eating disorders and nutrition.

“It’s something that affects multiple sports, so they could talk about it and start conversations about mental health,” Holohan said. “We wanted to show people how to be more comfortable and know how to get help if it’s needed.”

Gymnast Simone Biles famously turned the spotlight on athletes’ mental health when she withdrew from the Tokyo Olympic Games held in 2021 in favor of prioritizing her own mental well-being. 

“I remember those conversations when Simone backed out. There was nothing wrong with her physically, so it was hard for a lot of people to understand,” Holohan said. “Now mental health is being treated the same as physical health.”

Kennedy said he knew that, given Holohan and Guerin’s enthusiasm when they first presented the details, “they would be successful in implementing the program. This turned out to be true. Morgan’s Message has become part of our Student-Athlete Mental Health and Well-Being Subcommittee of SAAC.”

Kennedy complimented both for growing the chapter and integrating the mission of Morgan’s Message into SDA’s overall student-athlete mental health and well-being programming.  

“Most importantly, it is another way for our student-athletes to connect and check in with each other,” he said.

Holohan will return to ASU this fall to study sports law and business at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She said Guerin, now a junior, will make sure the chapter continues for the next two years, along with a transfer student on the ASU women’s lacrosse team, attacker Jenna Casole, who was a Morgan’s Message ambassador at her former university.

“It’ll be in good hands,” Holohan said.

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Elsewhere at ASU, for those interested in sports counseling, a new bachelor’s degree in applied psychological science (sports and performance counseling) has just launched in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

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