In the midst of the grey and dreary Victoria ‘winter’ weather, Mother Nature prevailed by shining down on the UVic campus on the same day another bright addition to the university was announced.
On Jan. 16, a remarkably sunny day, the UVSS unveiled the vibrant yellow “Friendship Bench” outside the Student Union Building.
The initiative is part of a nationwide ‘Yellow is For Hello’ campaign that aims to remove stigma surrounding mental health.
Specifically, the campaign writes on their website that they hope the Friendship Bench will “[provide] an accountable program that encourages student-to-student conversations about mental health, [facilitate] peer-to-peer support networks, and [fund] on-campus mental health programs.”
The Friendship Bench not-for-profit initiative started in April of 2015 after Lucas Fiorella, a Carleton University student battling depression, took his own life.
Lucas was well-known for taking time out of his day to check-in on his friends and their mental state, simply by saying, “hello.” The gratitude for his support of his friends in their time of need sparked the name for the campaign.
A crowd of about 30 people including students, faculty, and parents crowded outside the SUB for the grand unveiling.
Included in the ceremony was the appearance of Yellow is For Hello co-founder Sam Fiorella, Lucas’s father, who flew in from Ontario for the event. He joked he was the reason for the unseasonably warm weather in Victoria.
“I’m excited to be back in this part of the country, I flew in from Toronto to be here for this celebration, so I brought the good weather — just for the record.”
Fiorella continued his speech by listing facts about the campaign’s history, where he hopes the initiative will go in the future, and the goals for the bench here on campus.
“Wherever we place this bench we see an average increase of somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent in the number of kids asking for help,” Fiorella said. “We’re trying to get these [Friendship Benches] at every secondary and post-secondary school across this country, and the idea behind it is to carry on with Lucas’ legacy, which is of saying hello.”
Later, Fiorella addressed the unique colour of the bench, yet reiterated that he didn’t want this bench to seem more special than a regular one.
“It’s bright yellow because we want you to see it,” Fiorella said. “This bench is not intended to go to and sit when you have a problem, and hope that someone is going to sit and talk to you. I mean, we hope that someone does if that’s why you’re there. But the idea here is to use this bench the way you use any other one of these benches.”
Despite the smiles from the crowd that gathered for the unveiling of the bench, Fiorella admitted it’s difficult being reminded that Lucas is not here anymore.
“It’s actually very difficult for me, because being in front of students all the time, just constantly reminds me that my son is not here anymore. But I do see his eyes in a lot of them, so it’s also encouraging at the same time to know that through him we can have that story shared, and hopefully his story will inspire some of them.”
Present at the ceremony was UVSS Director of Campaigns and Community Relations Anmol Swaich, who played a vital role in bringing the bench to campus. Swaich hopes that the UVic Friendship Bench will be a permanent physical reminder for students to prioritize the importance of their mental health.
“Sometimes you’re walking from class and you’re just exhausted, tired, and feel like everything is going wrong because [you’re] doing something wrong. But the reality is that life is life and mental health plays into everything,” Swaich said.
Included on the bench is a plaque with the ‘yellow for hello.org’ link which directs students to mental health resources on and off campus.
Students that access the link on campus won’t have to worry about navigating the UVic website to find mental health resources. The Yellow is For Hello website asks to use your current location on your smartphone, and by using the UVic location, it directly leads students to the resources available here on campus.
“[The Friendship Bench] is just a reminder to take care of yourself, and take a minute to take a step back out of the situation and realize you’re just a person and life is just happening,” Swaich said.
Overall, the UVic Friendship bench is the 37th installment on a university campus or high school property in Canada, and the seventh in B.C.
Fiorella concluded the mental health celebration by acknowledging the students at UVic.
“I want to dedicate this bench to the students of this school, current and future, in the hopes that it and Lucas’s legacy will inspire all of you to continue to say hello.”