Students, athletes, and researchers share their experiences with mental illness

Mental health awareness has another major advocate on campus.

Do It For Daron (DIFD), a grassroots Ottawa-based organization dedicated to ending the stigma around mental illness amongst youth, was started up in 2010 by Luke and Stephanie Richardson after their daughter Daron died by suicide.

In 2013 the organization established a new chapter at the University of Ottawa, and on Friday, Jan. 26, the club held its first speaker series to promote their message.

“Our main goal is to begin the conversation on campus and make more people comfortable with the whole idea of mental illness,” said Selena Saikaley, president of the local DIFD chapter and a third-year finance student at the U of O.

The Jan. 26 event was held at the Desmarais building and featured speakers who shared their contributions to the field of mental health awareness.

The talk highlighted research by U of O PhD candidate Krista Van Slingerland, Dr. Rob Milin of The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, and a personal story from Redblacks defensive tackle Moton Hopkins.

Van Slingerland spoke of her personal struggles dealing with depression as a student-athlete. She talked about what worked for her and what didn’t, and has since taken that experience and turned it into her PhD project to create the Canadian Centre for Mental Health in Sport.

“We are creating a space to treat athletes 14 and up who have mental illness or mental health challenges,” she said. “We want to marry sports psychology and clinical psychology.”

To round out the night, Dr. Milin spoke of his research project educating high school students about mental health, and the benefits that came out of that initiative. Hopkins discussed his own health challenges and how he overcame them, and his work raising awareness for people born with autism.

DIFD also focuses on fundraising to assist in their mental health research, and education at The Royal. Their fundraising usually involves bake sales and club nights at Tequila Jacks.

This year, DIFD is looking to partner with other groups on campus to help spread their message. They will be teaming up with the U of O men’s hockey team for a DIFD night on Thursday, Feb. 2, where all proceeds will go towards The Royal.

“The last few years have been a lot of fundraising events,” said Saikaley. “Our goal moving forward is to really take on more of an educational approach, making people more aware of the realities of mental illness.”

Non-athletes looking for help with mental health shouldn’t shy away from organizations like DIFD either.

“Students Against Stigma aren’t athlete-affiliated,” said Van Slingerland. “There are a lot of student groups that are doing awareness-raising around campus.”

To learn more about how you can contribute, you can visit DIFD U of O chapter’s Facebook page.