Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.”– Robert Green Ingersoll

The “Yellow is for Hello” bright yellow Friendship Bench is to be installed at upper Bata Podium after the launch event on Monday, November 7th from 2 to 4 pm in the Champlain Great Hall. The free event, open to all, will have live acoustic music from Duncan Ivany and Dickie & The Boys, refreshments, giveaways, a photo booth, de-stress activities, and keynote speakers. There will also be the opportunity to write a message, draw a picture, or encourage any positivity inside a #yellowisforhello card for someone else to take away as a reminder of the event and the importance of talking about mental health.

With suicide as the second leading cause of death among Canadians aged 15-34 and with more than 50% of students suffering from depression, never reporting it to friends, family, or professionals, the Friendship Bench launch recognizes the urgency to reduce the number of young people suffering in silence. Instead of one-off campaign events, the yellow bench will serve as an everyday, constant visual reminder and educational source for students to take a minute out of their day to sit, breathe, think, talk, and learn more about mental health.

This nonprofit corporation was launched by the friends and family of Lucas Fiorella, a Canadian student at Carleton who took his own life in October 2014 after suffering from depression in secret for several years. Fiorella was a seemingly happy, silly, and funny student to all who knew him, but battled in silence. Despite his hidden suffering, Lucas took the time to talk to others about their own problems. He understood that students could not or would not ask for help, despite the resources available to them or the number of friends and family surrounding them.

The project continues Fiorella’s selfless acts and efforts to reach out to others suffering from anxiety or depression. Each of his conversations, prompting the courage to talk, began with a “hello”. His family and friends therefore use the simple, but important message of saying “hello” as a driving force behind their campaign. The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench was created to continue his legacy, to create a physical place where people who cannot ask for help may receive support.

Arthur sat down with Alaine Spiwak, President of Trent Central Student Association, in her office covered with yellow-coloured cards, buttons, and other promotional materials, to discuss the launch of the Friendship Bench at Trent University, the ‘Yellow is for Hello’ campaign, and the importance of de-stigmatizing mental health. 

On the Friendship Bench

The Friendship Bench was a project I heard about in the summer, and I knew right away it was something the TCSA wanted to see happen at Trent. This suicide prevention awareness initiative is very pertinent to our campus and campuses across Canada because mental health issues statistically affect post-secondary students at a higher rate. The Canadian Mental Health Association says that 70% of mental health problems and illnesses have their onset during childhood or adolescence. It’s clear that the stigmatization of mental health is prohibiting students from accessing the help and supports they need. It’s okay to talk about mental health, and as a university community it is important for us to look out for one another. The launch event in the Great Hall is where we’ll unveil the bench we bought for campus to everyone in the community; it’s 6 feet and bright yellow! The campaign is called “Yellow is for Hello” and the idea is that when you see the bench you’re encouraged to talk about mental health. If someone is sitting on it, you can go and say hello to them, introduce yourself and meet new people. We want to encourage peer to peer conversation about mental health among students in order to drive greater awareness and knowledge of the prevention and support services available.”

On resources for mental health

On the bench, there’s a plaque that has a URL built in that links students to on- and off-campus mental health resources and the Friendship Bench website right from their electronic devices. It pings your IP address, so it knows you’re on Trent’s campus, and uses that to load Trent and Peterborough resources. It asks you “Hey, need someone to talk to?” and loads everything you might need that is close to you. At the event, we’ll be reminding people of the resources that we have on campus and in the community. The Wellness Center is partnering up with us on it, we have the Canadian Mental Health Association coming, and Active Minds, our Trent group, will be there. The Friendship Bench organization will also be there talking about what the bench means. Everyone should come to our launch event to kick off the campaign!”

On Healthy Living Week

The launch coincides with Healthy Living Week; the dates fell nicely together! For the TCSA, a big part of healthy living is mental health, not just your physical health. It’s a great way to kick off the week. There’ll be more exam de-stressing events and therapy dogs coming at the end of November and the beginning of December. We’re trying to do a lot more than other years. Everyone has a role to play in de-stigmatizing mental health on campus. We hope that the Friendship Bench will help students make connections with one another, and will serve as a constant reminder of our commitment to mental health in the Trent community.”

According to The National College Health Assessment (NCHA) 2016 report, 71.3% of Trent students felt very lonely sometime in the last 12 months. Early reports from campuses who have already implemented the bench state that they’ve seen approximately 18% increase in the number of students seeking help by reaching out to on-campus teams for support. To find out more about the initiative, visit www.thefriendshipbench.org or www.yellowisforhello.org, and for more about Trent and Peterborough community’s wellbeing resources, visit https://www.trentu.ca/wellness/.