Krista Van Slingerland (Waterloo, Ont.), a member of the Ottawa Gee-Gees women's basketball team, knows how difficult of a struggle it is for student-athletes dealing with mental illness which is why she co-founded the Student-Athlete Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI).
A former member of the Carleton Ravens, Van Slingerland left the team when her untreated depression and anxiety reached a nearly unmanageable point. Not only has she since returned to the court, but she's also co-founded an initiative to help student-athletes in situations similar to her receive the help they need.
"For me, (SAMHI) was born out of personal experience," Van Slingerland said.
"I found there was a lack of education and support tailored to student-athletes. Student-athletes are a niche population so they require a different approach to their mental health. For example, when I went to counseling services their response was "quit basketball" and that wasn't really an option for me," she said.
Recently, SAMHI has grown to include eight Campus Teams at CIS schools across the country, including OUA representation from Lakehead University, McMaster University, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto and York University. These Campus Teams utilize student-athletes on campus to help design, guide and execute "Mental Health Matchups" and other initiatives across Canada.
Mental Health Matchups are varsity or club events held across the country that work to raise awareness of mental health and illness in sport, while connecting student-athletes with locally available mental health resources.
The next stop in the series could very well be the largest as the Carleton Ravens and Ottawa Gee-Gees renew their fierce basketball rivalry at the Canadian Tire Cente on Friday, Feb. 5 in the 2016 MBNA Capital Hoops Classic.
SAMHI also provides student-athletes with a voice through "The Huddle" to share personal stories – including Van Slingerland's – that deal with varying types of mental illness, as well as strategies and goals for the organization.
"We want to be a hub for student-athlete mental health," said Van Slingerland. "We want to make it so you can sign in through your school and find resources in your area, track your mental health, and provide education for coaches. There are a lot of services, but nothing that brings it all together. We want to be that pillar; we want to bring mental health to the forefront."
After having a year of recovery and self-care, Van Slingerland returned to the court last season and contributed in a big way. Appearing in 15 games for the Gee-Gees, she finished second on the team with 11.9 points per game.
This season Van Slingerland and the Gee-Gees are back in a familiar place sitting atop the OUA North division with a 9-1 record. Despite missing five games with a concussion to open the season, the Human Kinetics (MA) student-athlete is currently averaging 6.0 points per game and recorded a season high 11 points on Jan. 16 against the crosstown rival Carleton Ravens.
Van Slingerland and the Gee-Gees return to the court on Friday night when they host the No. 10 ranked Queen's Gaels at Montpetit Hall. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00pm.
For more information on SAMHI, you can check out their website by clicking here.