News / Toronto

Yellow is for Hello: Campaign brings yellow benches into schools

Yellow benches are being installed on campuses across the country to encourage discussions about mental health issues.

Sam Fiorella, co-founder of The Friendship Bench, with his daughter Vanessa Rose Fiorella, sitting on a yellow bench at Centennial College.

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Sam Fiorella, co-founder of The Friendship Bench, with his daughter Vanessa Rose Fiorella, sitting on a yellow bench at Centennial College.

Something extraordinary happened at the funeral of Sam Fiorella’s son Lucas.

“We heard at least a dozen stories of people that he reached out to with a hello,” said Fiorella. One particular girl recounted how she had wanted to take her own life until Lucas spoke with and helped her.  

Lucas, a robotics student at Carleton University, died by suicide in 2014 after silently living with depression for five or six years, according to notes he left behind for his family.

“While he was suffering, he was reaching out to others. That’s both sad and inspiring,” said Fiorella.

Lucas’ death and the stories from his peers inspired his father to help found The Friendship Bench, a non-profit organization committed to providing space on campus for students to talk about mental health issues. For the past two years, the group has installed yellow benches at various high schools and colleges across the country as a permanent symbol encouraging peer-to-peer conversations about mental health.

There are a dozen such benches at GTA schools. As part of the upcoming Mental Health Week (May 1-7), the charity will branch out to five new schools in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg and St. John’s.

“We just hope to help each student take a minute out of their day, sit down, breathe and talk to each other,” said Fiorella, noting the goal is to have a yellow bench at every school in the country.

He said they’ve received positive feedback from schools where yellow benches exist, with the number of kids asking for help increasing steadily.

“But it’s also frustrating that mental health is grossly underfunded part of our healthcare system. Government should be doing more to help kids learn to cope with the stress of life.”

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