Why this yellow bench could help save lives
The Friendship Bench looks to get peers talking to each other about depression, suicide and mental health
A yellow bench was installed Tuesday at London's King's University College as part of a Canada-wide effort to break the stigma around depression and suicide and get more students talking about their mental health.
The "Friendship Bench" is among 40 identical canary yellow benches on university campuses across the country from Vancouver to St. John's, installed by the Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench campaign.
"It's designed to encourage peer-to-peer conversation about mental health," Sam Fiorella, the co-founder and director of the campaign, told CBC News Tuesday.
Fiorella said the colour yellow is meant to say "hello" and make it stand out as a symbol to remind people not to take their mental health for granted and to encourage them to actively talk about it.
Bench gives out mental health information
What's more is students who are feeling overwhelmed can get a list of all community mental health services simply by entering the URL written on the plaque.
The campaign can then detect the IP address of the person's device and give them the latest information available, Fiorella said.
Fiorella said the Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench campaign was inspired by its namesake, his son Lucas, a popular first-year Carleton University student who died by suicide three years ago after a secret battle with depression.
Campaign inspired by son
"He was suffering from it in silence for about five to seven years as best we can tell," Sam Fiorella said.
"In the aftermath of his death, we were reached out to by a number of his friends from high school and university who told us stories about how he reached out to them when they were at their lowest and they were about to drop out of school and in a number of cases they actually were suicidal," Fiorella said.
"They all said he just came up and said 'hello' and that the conversation out of the blue ended up saving their lives in many cases or keeping them in school," he said. "So we decided to learn by his example."
Since then, Fiorella said he's learned a great deal about depression, suicide and mental health, which he notes remain taboo subjects to most people.
Ignorant of depression
"I was completely ignorant about what mental health looked like or depression," he said. "Depression and suicide never entered my mind, when my son went away to university. I was just excited for him."
"After my son died I learned that two members of my family died by suicide because it was hidden," Fiorella said noting one family member's death was reported as a hunting accident, while the other was an accidental drowning.
It's why Fiorella wants students to know they have a safe space to talk openly with their peers about the stress of their daily lives and whether they're struggling to cope.
"We need to make this a more active conversation at our schools," he said.