On May 6, 2019, Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region became the first location in Calgary, and also the first non-school location in Canada, to receive a Friendship Bench for mental health. The bright yellow bench will serve as a safe space for anyone to connect with peers and serves as a permanent and visual reminder of the importance of speaking openly about mental health issues.
After a long and secret battle with depression, Sam Fiorella, founder of The Friendship Bench, lost his 19-year old son to suicide in October of 2014. Since, Sam has dedicated his time to spreading awareness of post-secondary mental health issues, getting students talking and encouraging them to seek help. Through the installation of yellow benches (and supporting the #yellowisforhello campaign) in high schools and post-secondary institutions, across Canada, and now CMHA Calgary, Fiorella is providing tools to inspire peer-to-peer conversations.
Fiorella says, “We’ve seen an increase in the number of students who have asked for help after unveiling our campaign, including the now iconic yellow Friendship Bench. Students want to crowdsource everything and when their peers make it OK to talk about mental health, they’re more likely to seek help from a professional. We are excited to extend the reach of the Friendship Bench to outside a school and in front of CMHA Calgary.”
CMHA Calgary’s Peer Support program provides the opportunity for anyone, individual, family member or professional, looking for a connection with others who understand what it’s like to go through a mental health or substance use concern the opportunity to connect with someone by providing hope, support, and guidance.
“We are thrilled to kick-off Mental Health Week 2019 with the installation of Calgary’s 1st Friendship Bench,” said Laureen MacNeil. “The philosophy behind the Friendship Bench aligns directly with CMHA Calgary core values of providing belonging, connection and hope through our programs and services, including our Peer Support program. To be the first organization to have a Friendship Bench in Canada outside of a school-based organization is an honour.”
The Friendship Bench was sponsored and installed by Strategic Group, which owns and manages Parallel Centre where CMHA Calgary’s head office is located. CMHA Calgary is thankful to Strategic Group in providing the funds to permanently place the Friendship Bench in a publicly accessible space in front of the building.
“It is undeniable that there is significant need for mental health resources in our community,” said Riaz Mamdani, CEO of Strategic Group. “Projects like the Friendship Bench are more than symbols; they encourage important conversations and help remove the stigma around mental health. As we eliminate the stigma of mental health, we are taking a major step to help all people seeking mental wellness and resilience.”
About The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench
The mandate of the Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench is to connect students dealing with mental health issues, and who are unsure or unable to ask for help, with campus resources and other students willing to help or listen. The yellow benches being installed on high school and university campuses across Canada serve as a visual reminder of the importance of mental health awareness and conversations among students. Each bench features a URL where students can quickly access on-campus and local mental health and suicide-prevention services.
About CMHA Calgary
Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region creates awareness and provides education and support for individuals and families living with a mental health or substance use concern or a loss by suicide. We provide community-based programs including supportive and independent living, homeless outreach, aboriginal outreach, suicide bereavement and peer support for families and individuals. We work closely with other community organizations to bridge gaps in the mental health care system and facilitate access to important services and resources.
About Strategic Group
Calgary-based Strategic Group owns, manages, and develops office, retail, and apartment properties across Canada. It is one of Canada’s largest privately held real estate companies.