By Linda Scales
When University of Ottawa student-athlete Krista Van Slingerland talks about the national mental health initiative for student-athletes that she co-founded in March 2014, you know you’ve met a hero, someone intent on improving the world for the many varsity athletes walking in her shoes.
Van Slingerland is a master’s student in human kinetics at the University and a guard for the Gee-Gees women’s basketball team. She suffered from clinical depression and anxiety as an undergraduate student-athlete at another university, and while her story is personal and difficult to discuss, she tells it often to peers, sports-related organizations and universities across Canada.
“Mental illness in sports is treated almost like (physical) injuries,” says Van Slingerland. “Are you hurt or are you injured? If I can push through this and I can still play then that’s what I’m going to do. It’s not really healthy, but it’s the culture of sports.”
Van Slingerland, along with alumna (and former Gee-Gees women’s hockey player) Samantha DeLenardo, set up the volunteer-based Student-Athlete Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI) to bring awareness about the mental health difficulties experienced by many university students active in varsity sports and to provide information about available resources.