The Friendship Bench was inspired by my son, Lucas Fiorella.
On October 12, 2014, while in his second year of university, Lucas took his own life. The news was a complete shock to our family and friends.
Lucas did not show signs of what we would consider “clinical depression.” He had lots of friends, had a job, was accepted by his first choice of universities, loved his program, and was active in outdoor activities. On the surface, it seemed that he had everything going for him and the future was bright.
Many secrets were revealed after his death.
First, we discovered that he had been suffering with depression for many years, since his early days in high school. He told no one. Shortly after his death we received calls from at least a dozen of his peers sharing stories of how he “saved them from taking their lives” when each was struggling with depression. They too were suffering in silence and told no one. Somehow Lucas saw through that veil. He provided a shoulder to lean on and ensured each got the help they needed.
It wasn’t long after these revelations that we learned the news of his death shocked a great many more students who were still suffering in silence, moving them to reach out to family members and professional caregivers for help.
Silence Is The Biggest Obstacle To Getting Help
The lesson we learned is that despite the growing number of support groups and student services being offered to teens and young adults in schools, many are not seeking the help they need. 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.Suicide has become the 2nd leading cause of death among Canadians aged 15 – 34.Click To Tweet
Some theories offered include the younger age of 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.
Regardless of the efforts of on-campus support groups, the suicide rate among college and university students is growing. 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 count 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.
The Friendship Bench
Through the Friendship Bench we plan to build and install yellow benches on 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, our group of 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:
- 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
- a donation to the local student services group focused on mental health awareness, education, and support
- branded gear and social media campaigning to support local awareness initiatives
In addition, where requested, I will deliver a live presentation about my experiences with my son and the lessons that each student on campus can learn from it.
Please Join Us
How you can help us:
- please visit our Promote page for tweetable information and help us spread the word
- request a bench for your school by clicking here
- make a donation to the organization, which is completely run by volunteers.
We must stop the silence. You can help us achieve this.