The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench campaign was created to continue the legacy of Lucas Fiorella who, after secretly suffering from depression, took his own life on October 12, 2014.
Lucas was living with friends in Ottawa, Canada while attending Carleton University, where he studied Robotics, a discipline within the Computer Sciences faculty.
While living in the dorms during his first year, Lucas was nominated to the faculty’s student council as student representative. He was constantly surrounded by friends while in study groups, skating on the Rideau Canal, working out at the gym, or snowboarding at nearby Mont Tremblant in Quebec.
He seemed happy, made friends easily, and was often the “go to” guy when people needed a laugh or a hug. Indeed, his smile was infectious. Yet, unknown to his family and friends, Lucas was suffering with depression.
Despite his hidden suffering, or perhaps because of it, throughout high school and university Lucas actively reached out to friends and strangers who were suffering with depression, anxiety or just the normal stresses of school, family, and life.
“People think my jokes are lame, but I’ve always thought a bad joke is better than no joke.” Lucas Fiorella
His death was a shock to all who knew the seemingly happy, silly, and funny student. That shock was the impetus for dozens of students to stand up reveal their stories of anxiety and depression and how Lucas reached out to them when no one else seemed to be paying attention, to lend an ear when others wouldn’t listen, to report their illnesses to their parents or to just sit alongside them in silence.
Further, the news of his death and secret illness inspired dozens more students who were also suffering in silence to report their condition to family, friends, and/or healthcare providers and are now getting the help they need.
The Silent Epidemic
Lucas’s life and death raised awareness of the escalating rate of suicide among college and university students. Suicide has become the 2nd 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.
In the US, six percent of undergraduates and four percent of graduate students in four-year colleges have “seriously considered attempting suicide” in the past year—and nearly half of each group did not tell anyone.
It’s that silence that we find the most deadly. There are no firm reasons to explain why the rate of depression and suicide is escalating dramatically among college and university students.
Some theories offered included the younger age of Canadian students entering universities today, the increasing debt associated with post-secondary education or simply the fact that students are less prepared to deal with the sudden independence thrust on them by university life.
What most will agree with is the fact that mental illness still carries a taboo that often shames those suffering into silence. Despite the increased efforts by both secondary and post-secondary institutions to offer additional education and services for those struggling, many still don’t seek help.
And that’s the purpose of the Friendship Bench.
Though he suffered in silence himself, Lucas reached out to others and it made a difference. 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 Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench was created to continue that legacy, to create a physical place where people who can’t ask for help may still receive assistance.