Transcript: Morgan's Brave

INTRO


Hi, I’m Erin Gallagher, Interim Executive Director of This is My Brave, and we’re so excited to present this season of Our Turn to Talk, a podcast series featuring the voices of young people who are passionate about having authentic conversations about mental health. At This Is My Brave, we believe that Storytelling Saves Lives. We hope that this podcast inspires you to Be Brave with us and to start authentic conversations of your own about mental health.



Anastasia: As a heads up, this episodes contains some talk of suicidal ideation. Please be advised.


[music]


Morgan: So my dad picked me up at three o'clock. He was crying in the car, which was kind of weird to see him crying. And my dad said, you’re not going to be able to go to any of your practices, like the hockey team removed you from the team, you can’t see anyone, you can’t talk to anyone, go and watch the games. You can't be at any tournaments. You can't be around the team. You can't go to any practices like you are being removed from the team because you were considered a danger. So that's when it hit.


[beat]


Anastasia: That’s Morgan Urso. She’s 16, and lives in LaGrange Highlands, Illinois with her parents and two siblings.



Morgan: My hockey team, who I had worked so hard to be on had called me a burden and removed me from the team for being open about something that I've been taught my whole life to be open about.


[beat]




Anastasia: Morgan has been playing hockey since she was 10 , and has played at the highest level of her local hockey league for the past 2 years since she entered high school.


Morgan: You know if I had hurt my back and I had to tell my coach that I had to sit out of practice, he'd probably say, you know, like it's okay, like recover, you know, do whatever you need to do to get back on the ice.


And for my mental health, they did not let me do that. I mean, it was either you're a hundred percent in, or you're a hundred percent out.




Anastasia: This is Our Turn to Talk, a place for young people to have real conversations about mental health.


I'm Anastasia Vlasova, I'm 19, and a freshman at NYU.


[beat, fade down theme music]


[fade out theme music]


Anastasia: So you might remember that, in the pilot episode, I explained that I wanted to start this podcast because….storytelling saves lives.


Anastasia: Sharing our mental health stories – shamelessly like we do in this podcast – fights the stigma against mental health issues.


And today, with Morgan, we’re talking about the mental health stigma in sports, which I believe is not talked about enough at all. She’s here to share her story with us, and tell us how she was ostracized from her hockey team after confiding in her coach about her struggles. Later, we’ll hear about how Morgan and her family have become fierce advocates for mental health awareness in sports.




Morgan: I think that it's super important that this doesn't happen to any other kid out there.


[music cue]


Anastasia: Now, let’s get to know Morgan a little bit. She’s from a very supportive and really athletic family.



Morgan: We're kind of funny. Um, Really big and strong. We kind of all love each other and support each other.


Anastasia: Her entire family is pretty much obsessed with sports, as she put it. Her dad coached football, her mom coached softball, and she’s super competitive with both of her siblings, who also play a bunch of sports.


Morgan: When I was growing up, I tried every sport there was. And you know, anything that my brother and sister did, I had to try and I had to be better at it.


Morgan: So one day my brother was like, Hey, I really want to try hockey And he wouldn't do it alone. So I was like, I'll try it too.


[fade in hockey ambi]



Morgan: And then we tried it and I found my love for the game. And you know from there that started when I was 10. And then the past five years I've been playing hockey.




Anastasia: I had the chance to visit Morgan and watch one of her hockey practices last year.


Morgan: It's definitely something I love. It motivates me every day, I mean some days I still don’t want to go to the rink, but I get up and I go and I find the joy in even the littlest things.


[fade up ambi]


[music cue]


Morgan: You know hitting the ice and just feeling the cold air on your face.

Just being with your friends and teammates, it honestly means a lot to me.

.



Morgan: : it's super fast. Like everything around you is moving. You have to keep up with it a lot. Honestly I don’t really think I think about anything, just what I’m going to do next like the play. It’s really refreshing just to get out there and clear your mind and be on the ice and hear the edges cut the ice.



[fade down ambi]


Anastasia: You know when you’re so immersed in doing something that hours fly by without you even noticing? That’s how Morgan describes her experience playing hockey, and I saw this for myself when I watched her hockey practice . When Morgan is on the ice she’s focused , determined…she’s not thinking about anything, she’s just being.




Morgan: So right now I'm playing AAA hockey, which is the highest that girls can play. So I'd have about three practices a week and then either a tournament or game on weekends. So a tournament is about five games and then like normal scheduled games usually we'll have about three or four.


Morgan: There's definitely been a lot of times where I'm not even motivated to get out of bed, but I can go to the rink and, you know, someone there will cheer me up.


[fade out music]


Anastasia: At the rink, Morgan was in a “flow” state, completely fixated on the intensity of the game and this connection with her team. In those moments, she could forget all her problems. But outside of hockey, it was a different story...



[music cue]


Morgan: You know, I couldn't get out of bed. I had missed school for about two weeks, just feeling super down. I didn't know why I was feeling sad, but I just was. I'd sleep almost the whole day. Couldn't get myself out of bed. Couldn’t eat. Couldn't really do anything. I was super unmotivated.


Anastasia: During her freshman year of high school, Morgan began to experience severe anxiety and depression that was completely disrupting her life.



Morgan: You know I didn’t really have a lot of support my freshman year. Hockey had been great, but it was a lot harder than I anticipated.


And then I struggled with my mental health. Like I think I'd go into the building a couple of times a week, but I'd have to leave early because I was having these panic attacks, and you know I couldn't breathe. My hands would shake.


The first thing I noticed was that I had no motivation to go to hockey and that’s something that’s never happened to me before, so… hen I started not wanting to go to hockey, not wanting to get out of bed, my hands were super shaky, I was crying a lot. I knew like hey, there’s something going on with me and I need a little bit more help.



Anastasia: Morgan first tried talking to a therapist.



Morgan: Talking with someone, it was scary at first because I didn’t know what to expect, but it was also like hey you’re gunna try this out because Morgan we’re at a really low point.


Anastasia: But she needed more support.



Morgan: From there we seek help from a psychiatrist, which put me on some medicine to help balance the chemicals in my brain. I was just so low at that point. And I didn't really want to be alive that I was willing to take in anything. So medicine wasn't even really scary for me cause it was like, okay, well maybe this'll help me.


Anastasia: Talking honestly with her parents, and seeking out medication and therapy was Morgan’s first step in addressing her mental health struggles. But recovery takes time, and Morgan was still missing a lot of school and decided to enter an outpatient treatment program.


Morgan:I was communicating with my teachers just about what was going on, but I didn't really know how to communicate with them. I mean, at that point, I didn't know what was going on with me. I thought I was just sick. I didn't know it was depression and anxiety.


Anastasia:

Outpatient treatment programs are typically offered at places like hospitals, rehabilitation centers, community centers or other therapeutic treatment facilities. It’s an option for those who want or need intensive, ongoing treatment for various disorders, but who can’t or don’t wish to attend a full inpatient program, which means you actually live in the hospital or center.


Though Morgan didn’t stay overnight, her schedule was intensive, which meant she had to be taken out of her high school, St. Lawrence, for a period of time.



Morgan: So I was removed from St. Lawrence just so I could go into this outpatient program that I was in from nine to three. So going into the outpatient program I was so scared. I didn't know what to expect, like what was going to go on. When I got there, they brought me into a little room and like interviewed me about what was going on. And then they brought my parents into the room and they talked to them. And then my first day started. And I walk in and it was called the lunch room. So I walk into the lunch room and there's like seven other faces, just like all looking at me. It turned out they were super nice. It was nice going in there because I knew that everyone understood what I was going through. So I didn’t really have to be scared about you know like, them thinking I was weird or anything like that.


[music cue]


Morgan: And through program, we all were taught that we were never a burden. So, you know, anything that was going on, like it was meant to be in our life and we still were meant to be here. And we had a purpose in life.



[beat]


Anastasia: This outpatient program helped Morgan a lot. She learned important skills like coping with her emotions and understanding the difficult and scary feelings that were haunting her and disrupting her life. But as Morgan finished the program, that’s when she learned from her dad that she wouldn’t be able to come back to the hockey team.



Morgan: I mean, like, just to hear that after everything I'd been taught at program about like how I was special and everything like that, you know. Just hearing this, even knowing that physical activity is good and that my psychiatrist recommended going to hockey and then hearing that my hockey team was like, you know what? No, you're a danger.


[beat]



Morgan: So my hockey coach had sent a email to the rest of the teamparents letting them know like what was going on with me. And they did not include my parents, which is against HIPAA to talk about someone's child and not include them on the email. And they had said one of the lines in it was, we don't want any other child to carry the burden of Morgan.


Anastasia: Morgan sent me a copy of this email. And her coach’s words honestly shocked me…. The coach literally said, “the last thing we want is to see our kids upset and carrying the burden of a teammate’s personal struggle.” And let them know that Morgan has been asked to, quote “refrain from any involvement or communication with our team and her teammates.” He went on to say that once Morgan is back on her feet as the “positive, happy, smiling kid we all know she is”…only then, she will be welcomed back to the team….


[beat]


Morgan: So just hearing that and then going back to program with it - it really definitely put a, made me go back in my progress.


Morgan: You know, I was at a super low point and hearing this made me go back even farther. So my goal then was just to keep myself alive. And especially for my parents just making sure I wake up every morning and feel as loved as I could in my house.


Morgan:So when I was removed they told me not to have any communication with my teammates and this was something that I had gone to my teammates saying like, especially some of my close friends saying like, Hey, are you still gonna talk to me? Like, how's this going to work out? And a lot of them had been like, yeah, I'm like, this is crazy. And their parents supported them through that. But there were definitely a lot of girls who were kind of scared to talk to me and, you know, listening to their parents saying like, Hey, don't, don't reach out to her. Don't talk to her.


[beat]


Anastasia: So I know we’ve talked about stigma in this podcast and went into detail in the pilot episode about how psychologists have found that reducing stigma leads to lower rates of suicide and mental health disorders.


And one of the reasons I think it’s so important to know Morgan’s story is because THIS is stigma In action. We know stigma is bad, but WHAT is it really, and what does it feel like? I think we can all imagine how Morgan must have felt with that email going out and the way her team and coach treated her. It’s a super clear example of stigma, and of adults showing kids that it’s OK to alienate someone who’s struggling. That we’re only acceptable when we’re our .. “happy… smiling,selves..”




Morgan:I don't really like the word stigma actually. I just think that people aren't as informed as they should be about mental health and, you know, it costs people, some feelings. It costs me a month on a team that I worked up to. I definitely lost like a year of hockey.


[beat]


Anastasia: Morgan and her family decided to take legal action against her coach and hockey club. When I was at Morgan’s house in Illinois, I hung out in the kitchen with her and her mom and asked them about that decision.


Anastasia: So a lot of times when people experience these types of situations where they're kicked off a team, or they're kind of just shut down, when they try to seek help, they kind of just retreat and they don't really do anything.


They don't try to find any solutions or fight back. So what did you guys choose to fight back?



Morgan: We are suing team illinois for discrimination against the mental health act.

We decided to do this because after talking with them and saying that we wanted them to put mental health programs in place to help the coaches and the athletes they still haven’t done it, so we decided to sue because we don’t want this to happen to anyone again.


[music cue]


Anastasia: So a lot of times when people experience these types of situations where they're kicked off a team, or they're kind of just shut down, when they try to seek help, they kind of just retreat and they don't really do anything.


They don't try to find any solutions or fight back. So what did you guys choose to fight back?



Morgan: For me, at least we were lucky enough to, you know, have the resources to fight back. And, you know, I was just thinking about the next kid that this is going to happen to and what happens when they don't have the resources like we did.


And you know how is that going to affect them, and maybe they’re not strong enough to keep themselves alive.


Mom: As parents, like if we looked back in a year or we heard another story and we didn't do this and we didn't do everything we could to fight for the kids, because nothing was put in place. There was no training put in place, that they haven't tried to make a situation better for a kid who's going to come through on the next team. And If we wouldn't have done something and we'd heard of a kid losing his life or her life. We wouldn't have forgiven ourselves. So for us, Morgan was strong enough that she was like, yeah, I want to fight. And we got a great lawyer and just like all the pieces were in place where we could fight this and say this isn’t acceptable anymore.


[beat]


Anastasia: The lawsuit was eventually dropped. But the whole situation with the team, and going through the legal process propelled Morgan and her family to become mental health advocates, and fight against this stigma that athletes face.


Morgan: You know, it got far enough in the process where it wasn't even about me anymore. It was about preventing this from happening to the next kid and making sure that any other kid feeling like this out there and knew that they were not alone. Putting in mental health training is 100% needed in any sports.


[beat]


Anastasia: Our Turn to Talk.. continues in a minute.


[beat]



THIS IS MY BRAVE MIDROLL


Hi, Erin Gallagher from This Is My Brave again.


Whenever I meet young people who are sharing their stories, I feel even more empowered to do the work that I do.


If this inspires you, too, I want to tell you how you can get involved with us at This is My Brave.


Are you a college student? Our Brave Ambassador program is a student-led movement to create a safe space for yourself and your peers to talk about mental health and to break down barriers on your campus.


Are teens, if you’re feeling like this is your turn to talk, check out our website for opportunities to share your story… including how to participate in our next National Teen Show: Go to Thisismybrave.org for more information.




[fade out music]



Anastasia: So something really powerful has been happening lately in the world of professional sports. Big time athletes are speaking up about how important it is to take care of their mental health. You might remember last year when Naomi Osaka, a 24-year-old Tennis star, withdrew from the French Open.



NEWS CLIP: The number 2 ranked player in the world has just withdrawn from the French open, Osaka had been fined $15,000 for refusing to do the tradition post-match news conferences citing her mental health.



Anastasia: And I love what Simone Biles said when she pulled out of the Olympic gymnastic team finals last year.


Simone: Yeah,I say put mental health first b/c if you don’t then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to so it’s OK sometimes to even sometimes sit out the big time competitions because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are.


Anastasia: The list goes on and on… Michael Phelps,



Phelps: I mean i was just like a time bomb waiting to go off, no self esteem to self worth.



Anastasia: Kevin Love


Love: In our sport or in life, being a man, you’re taught to suppress it, you’re taught to suffer in silence.



Anastasia: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson


Johnson: Well depression doesn’t discriminate, and I thought that that was an important part of the narrative if I was going to share a little bit of my story.



Anastasia: and Serena Williams


Williams: It is really important to talk about because I feel like it’s a subject that’s kind of taboo and i feel like it shouldn’t be, and it happens to all of us, the best and the worst of us. And so there really is no worst of us.



[fade in BlackHawks ambi]


Anastasia: And professional hockey players have been speaking out too, and that really got Morgan’s attention.



Morgan: My dad was watching the Blackhawks game at the time Robin Lennar was on the Blackhawks and on the side of his helmet, it said hashtag #SameHere. So my dad looked into that and kind of was curious as to what that was. And it's a nonprofit organization that supports mental health. And you know, it does presentations supporting mental health and like in kids, teens, athletes, um, schools.


Anastasia: When Morgan was removed from her hockey team, her family was reimbursed the tuition, which was a little over $1,000. And when Morgan found out about the nonprofit Same Here from her dad, she made her first donation.


Morgan: So we had donated the money to Same Here. And my dad wrote in the description box, just like a little bit of what happened. The founder of same here, Eric called my mom that night saying like, Hey, like, this is crazy. Like, you need to tell me the whole story. So that's how we were introduced to Eric and Same Here.


Eric: Let’s say you’re a professional athlete and you share you’re going through mental health challenges. We're still at a place where that could hurt your ability to get a new contract, make more money on the next contract, right?


Anastasia: That’s Eric Kussin, founder of the non-profit, Same Here.


Eric: If you are open with your mental health and you're in college that could hurt your ability to get playing time, to get a scholarship, to maintain your scholarship. Right? All things that are ridiculous because at the end of the day, every single person on this planet is dealing with mental health.


Anastasia: Eric started Same Here in 2017. But before that, he worked as a sports executive for several professional teams and leagues. He’s now super passionate about addressing mental health stigma in the world of professional sports, because he went through it himself. After 15 years of working in athletics, he started having debilitating mental health symptoms.


Eric: About six months into my tenure with the Panthers, my brain and my body just hit a brick wall. I can't describe it any other way to people than imagine a computer and the wires are pulled out of the back and the computer blue screens, you know, my brain is a system and it just stopped functioning.


Anastasia: Eric said over the next 2 ½ years, he tried more than 50 different medications to try to treat his depression, but nothing worked.


Eventually he found an integrative doctor who helped him understand his mental health from the nervous system level, and address the anxiety, depression and PTSD he was experiencing more holistically. She taught him exercises like breathwork and mindful meditation, things he’d never done before.


Eric:

And I started to feel better after about 30 days of doing the exercises at home, starting to realize like there's something here to this mind, body connection, that's, that's not being communicated to the masses. And so I shared my story on LinkedIn. And three days it gets read over 150,000 times. And I get over 400 calls coming in from as far as China.


Everyone was sharing a lived experience.


You realize the common thread that ties the human condition together is not disorder. It's not mental illness. It’s not labels. It's these challenging life events that every person goes through. They just happen at different levels and at different times in our lives. And we process them slightly differently, but the impact they have on that architecture of our central nervous system is the same.


[music cue]



Anastasia: Teaching mindfulness is now at the heart of what Eric teaches athletes and sports teams.


Eric: We call the exercises that work on the central nervous system, we have an acronym for it we call them STAR exercises. So star stands for stress and trauma, active release and rewiring. And that's meant to be a gym for the brain


Anastasia: A gym for the brain. I like that. We know exercising our bodies is good for us. It makes sense that exercising our brains helps, too.



Eric: The top down issue is that athletes are afraid to share. You know it has to start with education for the leaders at the top, to know what mental health is that mental isn’t mental illness alone. Then from there it’s the education of the actual exercises. So that now we’re looking at two different branches: I have my physical health gym, and my personal trainers, I’ve got my mental health gym, and my mental health trainers. Yes, these two things work together, but at least I’m seeing them on equal planes.


[beat]


Anastasia: After Morgan got involved with Eric and Same Here, she had the idea to start her own mental health charity called Team Morgan.


Morgan: So we raise money for the school’s program of Same Here, so all the money raised is donated to Same Here.



Anastasia: Through Team Morgan, she and her family have raised more than 50,000 dollars. And they donate all the funds to Same Here.


Morgan:

For giving Tuesday in November this year, we’re making new T-shirt with different colors and the new brand on them, so we’ll be donating all the money to Same Here again this year.


I don’t know who I’d be without going through my story and having depression and anxiety - I feel like it’s such a part of me now that I don’t even see it as a bad part of my life.



[fade out music]



Anastasia: What do you have to say to any young athletes who may be listening that have struggled with or are still struggling with their mental health?


[fade in closing music]


Morgan:


I was told that there was definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. And I eventually found my way and I saw the light and I made it through.


Everyone is going through something and you shouldn't be ashamed to talk about what's going on in your head because it doesn't make you any less tough. It just makes you human.



Anastasia: Thank you all for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk. And thank you so much to Morgan Urso for sharing her story. You can check out more resources for athletes and mental health at samehereglobal.org/



Anastasia: If you’re a young person, we’d love to hear from you. What’s your story? You can go to ourturntotalk.com to share.


Ok, so maybe you're not ready to share your story, but maybe you have a question for us. We will be answering your questions in an upcoming Our Turn to Talk episode. No filters, no shame here. Submit your question on our website ourturntotalk.com


Our Turn to Talk is a production of Principle Pictures. We believe in the power and impact of storytelling through podcasts and films to build empathy and inspire change. Season One is a partnership with This is My Brave, an organization using performing arts to fight the stigma around mental health challenges and addiction. I’ve been very proud to intern there for the past two years. A very special thanks to Executive Director Erin Gallagher and Program Manager Katie Grana. Check out This Is My Brave at thisismybrave.org.

This episode includes content courtesy of the WETA WellBeings Youth Mental Health Project. Learn more at WellBeings.org and join the conversation with #WellBeings.

This episode of Our Turn to Talk was produced and edited by Megan Botel. Mixing by Mitch Hanley.

Beth Murphy and Jennifer Marshall are our Executive Producers. Additional support in the field and in the studio from Patrice Howard, Hannah McEachern, Ed Kashi and Ben Kolak.

Support for Our Turn to Talk is provided by The Hollister Confidence FUND, The Hershey Company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Rose-Marie van Otterloo and the Risa Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Washington.



I’m Anastasia Vlasova and I’m so excited to be on this journey with you. And don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.




OUTRO:


Hi all, Erin Gallagheragain. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk. Are you inspired by what you heard today? Are you ready to share your own story about your mental health journey? If yes, you can do so by visiting us at ThisisMyBrave.org and selecting the option Share Your Story. We cant wait to hear your Brave!