One year ago today a national student mental health initiative was born. The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench, also known as #YellowIsForHello, was launched in response to the alarming rate of mental health issues and suicides among Canadian secondary and post-secondary students.
WireService.ca Press Release (04/20/2016) – Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among Canadians aged 15 – 34, according to statistics provided by the University of Guelph. That does not include the number of students who have considered suicide or who have dropped out due to depression or other mental health-related issues. Those statistics have a deeply personal meaning for Friendship Bench co-founder Sam Fiorella, whose son Lucas died by suicide in 2014. Hoping to raise awareness of mental health issues and prevent future tragedies, Fiorella and his friends launched #YellowIsForHello on April 21, 2015, Lucas’ birthday.
“Losing Lucas was the catalyst which opened our eyes to the growing mental health epidemic among Canadian students,” said Fiorella. “It’s an issue which we’re not talking enough about and not doing enough about. Our yellow benches are designed to be a safe place where students can sit and connect with each other. They serve as a constant physical reminder on campus of the importance of both asking for help and offering support to those who may need it.”
Bright yellow Friendship Benches were installed at five Canadian campuses in 2015. Nine additional benches have been confirmed already in 2016, with several more in the planning stages. In many cases the local fundraising efforts have been spearheaded by friends and family in tribute to a student who died from mental health issues. The benches – and the support programs that go with them – are working. Schools who received a bench last year are reporting an average 18% increase in the number of students seeking help from existing campus mental health support services.
“Eighteen percent is a big increase and it tells us the #YellowIsForHello campaign is effective,” says Fiorella. “While that fact that so many students are dealing with mental health problems is still a grave concern, at least they are talking about it, they’re aware of the support services available to them and they are increasingly more comfortable in asking for help when they need it. Talking about mental health saves lives and at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to do.”
The organization’s first anniversary marks the lead-up to Canada’s Mental Health Week, May 2-8. The Canadian Mental Health Association has chosen #GetLoud as the theme for 2016, encouraging Canadians to speak up against stigma and use their voices to raise awareness and build support.
Three Canadian schools will unveil iconic yellow Friendship Benches and launch their #YellowIsForHello programming during Mental Health Week 2016: St. Marguerite D’Youville Elementary in Oakville, Ont.; Humber College (North Campus), Toronto; and Champlain College in Lambert, Quebec.
“I can’t think of a better way to mark Mental Health Week 2016 than to celebrate the installation of benches at three more Canadian schools, helping us reach thousands more students,” says Fiorella.
About Yellow is For Hello
The yellow bench was chosen as the organization’s icon because it represents students taking a moment out of their hectic lives to stop and engage each other. It will serve as a constant visual reminder of the importance of mental health awareness and conversations among students in Canadian schools, where mental health concerns are on the rise. Further, each bench will feature a URL where students can quickly access on-campus and local mental health and suicide prevention services.
In addition to installing the bench on campus, the volunteer organization coordinates local and national awareness campaigns, creates and curates mental health tips and coping strategies for students, and facilitates students accessing the growing list of on-campus mental health services so that few students will suffer in silence and fewer students will be left to consider suicide as their only option.
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