Mental health stigma is the discrimination against mental health issues and those who suffer from it. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.” Mental health stigma needs to be abolished, and by working together individuals can cooperate to end mental health stigma. The Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) is taking a step towards decreasing, and hopefully one day ending, mental health stigma at Trent.
The Friendship Program is a non-profit organization that works with schools across Canada towards ending mental health stigma. The Friendship Bench is meant to encourage conversation amongst students about mental health and facilitate peer-to-peer networks. The program began in April 2015 when a student at Carleton University, Lucas Fiorella, took his own life in October 2014 after numerous years of suffering from depression. The program was made to honour Fiorella’s memory, and in hopes to decrease such tragedies from reoccurring.
Trent University is the eleventh school to join the Friendship Bench program. On Monday November 7th, the TCSA held a launch party in the Champlain College Great Hall to celebrate a step towards eliminating mental health stigma at Trent. The bright yellow bench was installed the next day on the upper part of Bata podium by Faryon Bridge. The successful event was to celebrate the launch of the campaign and the installment of the bench at Symons campus. There was free food, giveaways, as well as a photo booth that created an enjoyable and positive atmosphere for students and faculty members who were present.
The campaign that accompanies the bench is “Yellow is for Hello”, meant to represent the beginning of a conversation that may help another person directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues. At the event Alaine Spiwak, TCSA president, made a heart-warming speech to guests about the bench and what it stands for. She explained how the bench is a visual reminder for students to talk about mental health and also hopes that the bench will show students that it is okay to talk about these issues, and more importantly to be comfortable enough to access resources available. “It’s a reminder to really reach out to one another on campus, and not only tell our friends where and how to access mental health services, but that it’s also okay to access those services as well”. The TCSA has more in store towards de-stigmatizing mental health, such as the mental health first aid training taking place at the end of the month, and there have been discussions about incorporating the yellow bench in future mental health campaigns.
The installment of the yellow bench on campus is an excellent method to encourage conversation among students, even if it is simply by intriguing students as to why there is a bright yellow bench on campus. “Yellow is for Hello” represents the beginning of a conversation, usually starting with a hello, and a conversation may be the first step to helping someone. So let us all as members of the Trent community to be supportive of each other and end mental health stigma, as Jerry Seinfeld said in The Bee Movie, “we get behind a fellow, black and yellow… hello!”