Bridging the Gap unveils new Friendship Bench at Laurier

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Photo by Safina Husein

 

On Jan. 31, 2018, Bridging the Gap, a student run club at Wilfrid Laurier University, presented their newest mental health initiative: the Friendship Bench.

The Friendship Bench was made possible by the efforts of Bridging the Gap with the additional support of Sarina Wheeler, coordinator of Wellness Education at Laurier, Leanne Holland Brown, dean of students and funds from The Student Life Levy.

The grand opening took place on the annual #BellLetsTalk day initiative started by Bell Canada, a telecommunications company. The event also fell on Laurier’s Thrive Week which focuses on bringing events to students that promote positive mental health.

Bridging the Gap has their own initiative which brings students positive mental health programming. One of their initiatives this year was the Friendship Bench.

“As a club, we like to advocate for mental health awareness,” Dylan Methner, co-president of Bridging the Gap, said. “But what separates us from everyone else is we like to do physical things that make a difference [in addition to] talking about it. This is a big piece for us to bring [the Friendship Bench] to the students.”

In addition to Methner, Ashley Siegel, the other co-president of Bridging the Gap, shared her own battle with mental health to those in attendance at the grand opening of the Friendship Bench.

“I began my undergrad journey at Queen’s University where I was flooded by depression and anxiety,” Siegel said. “With endless love and support I was able to make it through my first year and transfer to Laurier, where I always felt safe and supported.”

“I also unfortunately know the realty of mental illness and how it can destroy lives and families. On May 29, 2015, my father lost his battle to depression. He was a social worker who dedicated his life to helping others cope with mental illness.”

Siegel explained that mental illnesses are treatable and suicide is not the only answer. The Friendship Bench is one of the two main initiatives this year of Bridging the Gap has undertaken with hopes to remind students that their mental health is a priority.

“Today I not only want to honour my father’s life and remind people of the incredible man he was but [I] also [want to] turn my grief into strength and let everyone know that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary and manageable problem,” Siegel said.

“Every Laurier student who walks by this bench knows that they are not alone and there is never a reason to suffer in silence mental illness does not need to be debilitating it is something that people can cope with and learn from and become better people because of it.”

Sarina Wheeler, coordinator of Wellness Education at Laurier, explained in the grand opening presentation that there are many services at Laurier which students can access regarding their mental health.

“There are numerous professional services for students to talk advantage of from one on one counselling, to crisis lines, mental health educational workshops, but it’s also vital to have a good friend to talk to, peer-to-peer connection has a big impact on student’s mental well-being,” Wheeler said.

“Yellow psychologically represents happy and conversations, so we thought what a better combination, because that’s what we’re trying to do inspire conversations”

“The new your mental health matters poster which will welcome users to the friendship bench providing a list of mental health resources.”

Sam Fiorella is a co-founder of the Friendship Bench initiative as well as the father of the late Lucas Fiorella. The mission of the Friendship Bench is to inspire conversations and help in order to de-stigmatize mental health and connect more students with peers, faculty and/or professionals available to assist with mental health difficulties.

“The Friendship Bench is a permanent visual reminder for students to take a minute of their day and think about their mental health.”

“We’re hoping to inspire peer to peer conversations about mental health so inspire them to just breathe and take a minute out of their day to breathe and to feel a little bit more at claim and at peace with themselves so they can better handle what else is going on.”

The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench was created in memory of Lucas Fiorella a Canadian student whom lost his battle with depression Oct. 2014.

“The friendship bench was created in memory of my son, to continue the work that he was doing before he died by suicide,” Susan Fiorella, mother of Lucas Fiorella said. “After he died we learned from his friends, some that we knew and some that we didn’t, that he had prevented others from taking their life or he had prevented others from leaving school and quitting school when they couldn’t make friends.”

“Some of my friends and I got together and said [it’s a]  shame Lucas isn’t here to keep having those conversations, and saying hello to these people, so the concept of the Friendship Bench, is to keep his memory alive but also to keep on that legacy.”

Holland-Brown explained that the Friendship Bench serves as an invitation to conversation about mental and can help students take the possible necessary step to accessing mental health resources.

“The friendship bench is a reminder and serves as a symbol to students as an invitation to conversation and a reminder that support is available and a reminder that talking about mental health is really important for students and not always an easy step for people and a really difficult step for a lot of people,” Holland-Brown said.

“So, the more reminders that we can give on campus for students that we care help is available you don’t need to do this on your own.”

In the center of the friendship bench is a website: www.yellowisforhello.org; a resource which students can use which lists the mental health resources on campus which students can access.

Yellow is For Hello is a campaign by the co-founders of the friendship bench, which is why the bench is in fact yellow. The colour yellow is said by Fiorella to inspire conversations and promote discussion concerning mental health.

“Yellow psychologically represents happy and conversations, so we thought what a better combination, because that’s what we’re trying to do inspire conversations, we wanted it to stand out, we wanted it to be bright so that people think ‘yellow is for hello,’”Fiorella said.

“One hello can start a conversation that can save a life.”

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