University Student’s Suicide Inspires Canadian Mental Health Awareness Initiative

The parents and friends of Lucas Fiorella, a popular 2nd year Carleton University student who took his own life in October, 2014, have used the tragedy to inspire a new initiative that will help raise awareness about mental health on Canadian campuses.

Toronto, ON April 21st, 2015 – Run strictly by volunteers, The Friendship Bench ( will raise funds to support existing, on-campus student services programs dedicated to serving the mental health of the student body.

A yellow bench, the organization’s icon, will be installed at participating secondary and post-secondary institutions as a visual reminder for students to speak openly about mental health issues and to encourage them to both ask for help and offer it to those in need. In addition, the organization will fund existing on-campus mental health organization and support their ongoing efforts to help students.

“Until Lucas’s death, we did not know he was suffering with depression,” states Sam Fiorella, Lucas’s father. “He was always surrounded by friends who saw him as the ‘go-to guy’ when they needed a laugh or friendship. We had no clue.”

Lucas was accepted by Carleton University, his first choice for post-secondary education where he studied Robotics as part of the Computer Sciences undergraduate program. He was an active snowboarder, had a job, dated, and was always a popular kid. Like so many students, Lucas suffered in silence until his depression caused him to end his life.

Suicide is now 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.

“Despite his suffering, Lucas dedicated himself to reaching out to other who he believed were also suffering,” Fiorella. “In fact, after his death, about a dozen of Lucas’s peers reached out to me privately to share their story of how Lucas reached out to them when they were considering suicide. In each case they had not spoken about their feelings to anyone. It’s this silence that we’re trying to prevent with the Friendship Bench program.”

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.

About The Friendship Bench

The Friendship Bench initiative seeks to build and install yellow benches on secondary and post-secondary campuses across the country. The goal of the bench is to serve as a visual reminder that:

  • we all experience some level of anxiety and/or depression in school
  • it’s important to talk about what causes the stressors that contribute to that anxiety and to speak out when we’re experiencing it
  • we must be open to the attitudes, comments, and behaviours of fellow students and reach out to those whom we think need friendship

But it’s more than just a bench. Where benches are installed, the Friendship Bench’s volunteers will work with existing on-campus student services groups – in both secondary and post-secondary institutions – that are focused on:

  • helping new students acclimate to their life on campus
  • educating students about mental health issues, in particular how to identify signs of depression and how to get help
  • helping students open up to their peers, counselors and families about any of the stressors caused by life on campus

The program will offer:

  1. delivery and installation of a branded bench with a URL engraved into the back for students to learn more about the causes of anxiety and depression, as well as links to on-campus and provincial associations that offer help
  2. a donation to the local student services group focused on mental health awareness, education, and support
  3. branded gear and social media campaigns to assist in on-campus awareness efforts
  4. lecture(s) by Sam Fiorella, the father of Lucas Fiorella, who, through his and his son’s experience, will highlight the causes of stressors on campus, the reason many students don’t seek help, and how students can identify the signs that they or their friends are succumbing to these pressures and possibly falling into depression.

The organization is currently campaigning to raise CAD$25,000 for the first 5 installations. In honour of Lucas Fiorella, the first bench is planned to be installed at Carleton University this fall. Funds are being collected on Tilt, a Canadian-based crowdfunding website.

About The Founders

The founders of the Friendship Bench are three friends and fathers who each have a connection to depression and mental illness: Danny Brown, an author and award-winning marketer and blogger, Robert Clarke, owner of a Canadian marketing firm, and Sam Fiorella, author, marketer, and entrepreneur.

Media inquiries may be directed to:
Sam Fiorella Email: Phone: 416-484-1400 ext. 3