Directly inside the main entrance at Sutherland Secondary School, located in a prominent position in a central hallway and just outside of the cafeteria, is a sunny yellow bench. The new friendship bench at the school is a place where students can sit, chat and connect. It is also a reminder for students to seek out connections and support if they are experiencing depression or other mental illnesses.
"Yellow is for 'Hello'. Remember this as you pass by the bench. One 'Hello' can start a conversation that can save a life," said Sam Fiorella, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench organization.
Fiorella speaks to students at Sutherland Secondary
Fiorella was at Sutherland Secondary to unveil the new bench on Monday, May 1st, 2017. The bench unveiling event was also the kick-off of Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual national event hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association that takes place during the first week in May to encourage people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health.
Sutherland students gathered in the school cafeteria to hear Fiorella speak about the significance of the bench. The room was dead quiet as he told the story of his young son, Lucas, whom he lost to suicide two years prior.
"Depression is often in people who have the biggest smiles on their faces. On the outside, Lucas was good looking and athletic with good grades and early acceptance into university," Fiorella told the students. Yet, Lucas suffered silently with depression - taking his own life in early university.
The friendship bench initiative strives to bring awareness to the need to speak about depression and mental illness with and amongst young people. Sutherland Secondary School is the first secondary school in the Lower Mainland to receive a bench. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, four more benches were unveiled at schools across the country. It total, there are 27 friendship benches in Canada.
For more information about friendship benches, visit: thefriendshipbench.org
Also, here is a story and radio interview with CBC Vancouver regarding the friendship bench initiative and the unveiling of the bench at Sutherland Secondary.
Christie Sacre, Board Chair of the North Vancouver Board of Education, and Fiorella, join students to unveil the new friendship bench at Sutherland.