Sitting down has never been so friendly

The bench is meant to serve as a safe space for people to talk about mental health issues. - Photo by Lisa Dimyadi

Have a seat and make a friend! SFU’s Hi-F.I.V.E. Movement for Mental Health has unveiled a new Friendship Bench on Burnaby Campus.

Operating with the support of SFU Health and Counselling and the Simon Fraser Student Society, Hi-F.I.V.E. is a student-led group that started at SFU to advocate for mental health awareness.

The group hopes that the gift of the bench will become a symbol of the importance of mental health for all visitors to campus and will encourage people to feel comfortable to talk openly about mental health issues.

“Resources do exist and help is nearby if you need it,” said Hi-F.I.V.E. coordinator Tanya Miller, emphasizing that no one should have to “suffer in silence.”

Located in a courtyard on the south side of the AQ, across from the SFU Gallery, the bright yellow bench invites passersby to sit a spell, connect with others, and foster a safe space for individuals that are in distress.

The bench is the only installment in Western Canada and just one of five that the project has begun to roll-out. Hi-F.I.V.E. hopes to have the courtyard renamed to reflect the significance of the space. 

Photo by Talha Qadir
Photo by Talha Qadir

The Friendship Bench initiative was founded by a group of three men who have all grappled with or experienced a loved one deal with mental health issues and suicide. Suicide survivor and co-founder Sam Fiorella got involved with the project after his son, who was a student at Carleton University, took his own life in 2014.

“The bench itself was chosen to represent the coming together of students and students helping each other out, talking to each other,” explained Fiorella. “We wanted something that was more than a one-day campaign, that was a permanent thing.”

The project raises funds to install benches on secondary and post-secondary campuses across the country, as well as donate $1000 to a local campus group to provide mental health awareness education, marketing assistance, and financial support to services for those in crisis.

Each bench is accompanied by a plaque and a URL leading people to all the mental health resources that their school makes available to students. People are encouraged to use the hashtag #yellowisforhello as a public forum for open and honest communication about mental health.

The Friendship Bench’s partnership with Hi-F.I.V.E. will extend outside of SFU. “If campuses don’t already have a mental health initiative, they’ll suggest Hi-F.I.V.E.

It is applicable to anywhere, really,” said Miller, adding that the University of Tokyo, among others, is currently in the process of adopting a Hi-F.I.V.E. group of its own.

The initiative’s webpage encourages people to connect with others: “Getting the help you need or making the difference in the life of someone struggling starts with a simple ‘hello.’”