A new yellow bench now sits in the hallway of the Andrews Building at Lethbridge College. Its message is clear – “yellow is for hello.”
Lethbridge College has joined a growing number of post-secondary institutions that have installed a Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench as a suicide prevention technique. Named in honour of an Ontario student who died by suicide in 2014, the purpose of the bench is to act as a place to begin a conversation. Anyone who feels they need support but isn’t ready to reach out in a formal setting can sit on the bench, and others in the area can take it as a sign to initiate a conversation with the person.
Lucas’ father, Sam Fiorella, started the Friendship Bench foundation in honour of his son. Yellow benches have now been installed in more than 50 post-secondary institutions and high schools across Canada.
“The goal of the initiative is to reduce the escalating number of youth suicides,” says Sam Fiorella, who was on-site for Lethbridge College’s bench unveiling. “What I have learned is that young people don’t want to talk about mental health with their parents or professionals. They want to talk to their peers and know they are not alone, and we see that then leads to them approaching their parents or professionals for help. We need to make it completely OK to not be OK and to talk about how we’re feeling.”
The Friendship Bench is now installed in the Andrews 1700 wing of Lethbridge College’s campus to serve as a permanent, physical reminder to students to take a moment out of their day sit, breathe, and talk (or think) about their mental health and that of their friends. It is hoped that it will inspire peer-to-peer conversations about mental health to reduce stigma and encourage more students to seek help.
“The mental health and wellbeing of our college community is one of our over-arching goals,” says Dr. Paula Burns, Lethbridge College President and CEO. “We recognize that not everyone who needs help will seek it in the same way, so this is a means of providing another avenue for those in need to connect. I’m really proud of our campus community for taking the initiative to make this project come to fruition.”
According to The Friendship Bench organization, campuses that have the program running report an 18 per cent increase in the number of students seeking help for some form of depression. Information about available mental health supports will be available on-site beside the bench.
Along with linking students to resources, The Friendship Bench is a destination where students who are struggling to connect with others and find it difficult to ask for help, can talk with someone willing to offer an ear to listen with, a shoulder to cry on or just a “hello.”
“We have felt the crippling effect of suicide and depression within our own campus community,” says Dr. Jeanine Webber, Dean of the Centre for Justice and Human Services. “Anything that can be done to show our students that help is available and that they are not alone is a worthwhile effort. We believe this will save lives.”
The Friendship Bench is a not-for-profit corporation launched in April 2015 to continue the selfless acts of Lucas Fiorella, a Canadian student who, after suffering from depression in secret for a number of years, took his own life in October 2014. In the aftermath of his death, Lucas’s family and friends learned about his silent battle but also his efforts to reach out and save other students who were also suffering.
Lethbridge College offers a wide variety of health and wellness supports, including an on-campus Health Centre, 24/7/365 online and phone access to counsellors through Shepell Counselling Services, and Indigenous Cultural Services that includes access to Elders, spiritual advisors and leaders.