Joel Slavik opens up after losing friend to suicide

Joel Slavik just finished his second season playing for the Stingers football team. Photo by Kyran Thicke / Concordia Stingers.

Receiver wants to continue the conversation about mental illnesses

The Concordia Stingers hosted their annual Bell Let’s Talk game when the men’s hockey team played the Queen’s Gaels on Jan. 18.

In past seasons, Stingers men’s hockey team captain Philippe Hudon has made his struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder public. He’s been the Stingers’s ambassador for the Bell Let’s Talk campaign in the past, and has seen his teammates open up.

Though an arena might not be the most common place to have a conversation about mental health, Hudon has seen people opening up. “Not in my locker room,” said Hudon when asked if there’s still a stigma. “I think we’re pretty open about it. No matter the sport, I think it’s becoming more normal in a sense.”

This year, Joel Slavik, a slotback on the football team, opened up on social media with his own personal story. He lost a friend to suicide last March, and wanted to share his friend’s story.

“It’s the first Bell Let’s Talk day since he passed, and I just wanted to bring a little bit more awareness to the issue itself,” Slavik said. “I found the best way with dealing with it is just to talk about it, and bring it to light.”

After Slavik lost his friend, he started asking a lot of questions about mental illness to better understand what his friend went through. “How I dealt with it was talking to his family, and his brother reached out too,” Slavik added.

“When someone is dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, it’s really easy [for them] to think that their problems [are] the end of the world, and will never get better,” Slavik said. “But I would just let them know it’s just a rough patch and won’t be something they will be going through for the rest of their life. It’s something I wish I could have told [my friend] at the time, but not many people knew about it.”

Bell Let’s Talk aims to end the stigma around mental illness and encourage conversations surrounding it. Clara Hughes, a former Summer and Winter Olympian, battled depression and helped start Bell Let’s Talk in 2010. Since then, more athletes have become involved in the campaign, including former Montreal Alouettes safety Étienne Boulay and Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock.

“With sports, there’s the whole, ‘Get over it, next-play’ mentality, which is great in sports,” Slavik said. “Overall, when something that significant happens, it’s really important to see how it affects you and how it affects others, instead of trying to sweep it under the rug.”

Slavik wants to see people be more open to sharing, but he wants to see it throughout the whole year, not just on Bell Let’s Talk day. “If you’re feeling this kind of way, there are resources and there are people who want you to talk about it and be vocal,” Slavik said.

After Slavik’s video was published on social media, he received support from friends in his hometown of Calgary, and from other Stingers athletes. “I just wanted to do it for [my friend] and just to prevent it from happening in the future,” Slavik said.

Bell Let’s Talk day is Jan. 30, and Concordia students struggling with their own mental health and wellness can visit the counselling services offered by the school, or call Concordia Students’ Nightline.

Main photo by Kyran Thicke / Concordia Stingers.

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