Saskatchewan Polytechnic wants students to talk mental health

By Michael Joel-Hansen
January 29, 2019 - 5:23pm

A not-for-profit organization and Saskatchewan Polytechnic are teaming up in hopes of getting the students to talk about mental health.

School officials and student leaders joined dignitaries at a ceremony Tuesday morning as a bright, yellow friendship bench was unveiled in a special ceremony. The bench will be installed near the front entrance at Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

The bench is part of the Friendship Bench Initiative, which was started by Sam Fiorella who, along with his family and friends, were eager to end the stigma around mental health.

Fiorella was pushed to start the program after he lost his son Lucas to suicide. While addressing the audience in Prince Albert Tuesday, Fiorella spoke about how no one had any idea that Lucas was battling mental health issues.

The yellow bench initiative was given a further push when at his son’s funeral, Fiorella met a former high school classmate who was close to taking her own life one day, before Lucas stopped to speak to her in the hallway. After speaking with Lucas, the girl got help.   

“These benches and this program that inspire so many other kids to say hello, the way he was saying hello and saving lives is a way for us to extend his life,” said Fiorella.

The Prince Albert campus is not the first Saskatchewan Polytechnic to get a yellow bench. The Regina campus has had one since 2017, while benches were recently unveiled in Moose Jaw and Saskatoon.

“The first two benches were placed at Carleton University in Ottawa, where Lucas attended and where we lost him, the university was phenomenal at helping us get this program off the ground,” Fiorella said.

Originally, Fiorella said they put the first two benches in as a test to see how it worked out. Soon, interest came from other institutions looking to get involved and the idea has continued to grow since.

“We’ve got over 50 [benches] across Canada right now and we have another 70 in queue,” he said.

Fiorella said when the bright yellow benches are nstalled, they will lead to some changes.

“We’ve proven where ever we’ve had a bench, that there’s about a 20 per cent increase in the number of kids asking for help … after we’ve been in the school and the reason for that is because students need to make it acceptable for other students to talk about their feelings,” he said.

Fiorella added it is especially important to have a presence in places like Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

“When you go into blue-collar communities or trade schools, there’s this perception that they have to be tough and so they don’t show any weaknesses and so their less likely to talk about what’s natural, which is depression and anxiety,” he said.

The money to install the bench at the P.A. campus was donated by Dr. Anne Neufeld, former provost and vice president academic for Saskatchewan Polytechnic, through her organization, Annie’s Friends Foundation.

On Twitter: @mjhskcdn 

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