'Yellow bench' campaign aims to reduce mental health stigma

A high school in North Vancouver is the recipient of a bright yellow bench as part of a campaign meant to encourage students to talk openly about their struggles with mental health.

It's called the Friendship Bench Campaign, and after installing a bench at Sutherland Secondary School today, four other benches will be installed across the country in Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg and St. John's to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.

Sam Fiorella, co-founder of the campaign, started it after losing his son, Lucas, to suicide over two years ago.

"After his death, we were approached by many peers who were telling us stories of him reaching out and saying hello at the right time and in many cases, he prevented a few of them from taking their life," Fiorella explained.

"One of the things we did was take Lucas' cue of reaching out to people, reaching out to his peers. What better representation of that than a bench which is two people sitting together having a conversation?"

Fiorella said the bright yellow is meant to serve a permanent visual reminder of the issue of mental health.

"We wanted to fight stigma with stigma. We made it bright. We made it yellow. We wanted this to be seen," he said.

He says the benches are meant to encourage students to reach out to one another to talk about their struggles.

The benches are also marked with a website — yellowisforhello.org — which students can visit for mental health resources near them.

He says the campaign has been positively received.

"They're responding to each other. They're responding to outreach to one another moreso than they are from parents and from professionals," he said.

"What we're discovering from those that are asking for help where we've placed our bench ... they're saying I'm asking for help now because it's now okay. I feel like I've been given the permission because my friends have talked to me about it."

Since the campaign began, 27 benches have been installed on campuses and at high schools across the country.

Listen to the interview with Sam Fiorella on CBC's The Early Edition