A bench unveiled on each of Sheridan’s campuses will serve more than just a functional purpose. The Friendship Bench, as it’s called, is part of a Canada-wide movement to spotlight mental health. It will be a permanent fixture in our hallways – a year-round reminder to students of the importance of proactively addressing one’s own mental health and wellness and participating in a larger conversation with peers.
Students can take a break, eat and socialize while sitting on The Friendship Bench – all of which are healthy behaviours that contribute to a person’s overall wellness, says Marissa Amoroso, Senior Manager of Health and Counselling Services and one of the people who helped bring the benches to Sheridan. From her experience, Amoroso believes that mental health must be discussed in the context of wellness, explaining: “positive mental health is attainable only when other indicators of health such as diet, exercise and sleep have been addressed.”
“If we can connect as a community, slow down, say hello to one another and thereby create a friendly and welcoming environment, then wellness is heightened on campus.” – Marissa Amoroso
Painted a bright yellow, the benches are intended to catch the eyes of passersby, encouraging them to look up from their phones and engage in face-to-face conversations. They’re the first accessible ones in Canada – an arm has been removed so a person in a wheelchair can sit next to friends. “If we can connect as a community, slow down, say hello to one another and thereby create a friendly and welcoming environment, then wellness is heightened on campus,” says Amoroso. It’s a sentiment reflected in the #yellowisforhello social media campaign, a digital component of the bench installations events.
Working with Student Affairs’ Health and Counselling Services to co-launch the initiative is the Sheridan Student Union (SSU) and Sam Fiorella, a founder of The Friendship Bench not-for-profit organization. At the unveiling events, Fiorella shared his inspiration for starting the organization: his son Lucas, who took his own life after suffering from depression in secret for many years. Installing benches on secondary and post-secondary campuses across Canada became part of Fiorella’s mission to break the silence around mental illness and to educate on its signs.
“We hope the benches will be a campus destination where students who are struggling to connect with others and find it difficult to ask for help can talk with someone willing to offer an ear to listen,” says Sylvia Ibrahim, SSU President. Amoroso sees this Sheridan initiative contributing to the positive change that’s been brought about through the work of Bell Let’s Talk. “Stigma is a huge barrier to overcome,” she says. “We’ve come a long way but there’s still work to be done about how we speak about mental illness and the language we use. Any opportunity to dialogue on this at Sheridan is welcome.”
One way in which the Health and Counselling Services team works to open lines of communication with students who may not seek out supports or resources on their own is by hosting events outside of their offices. These have included a cricket game with international students or ‘Smash Stress’ table-tennis games at lunch. “At these events we’re not overtly sharing mental health supports but our team is present so that if someone does need intervention in the future we will be familiar to them,” says Amoroso.
If students aren’t comfortable speaking to Health and Counselling Services staff, they have an option to work with one of Sheridan’s Peer Mentors, who play an integral role in promoting wellness on campus. Peer-to-peer engagement is also an objective of The Friendship Bench initiative, making it a natural fit for Sheridan. “People often want to speak to someone who ‘gets it’ and is going through similar challenges,” says Amoroso.
The Friendship Bench will be part of ongoing wellness and mental health events and campaigns at all campuses. They’re also the first accessible benches to be installed in Canada – one arm has been removed to allow a person in a wheelchair to sit next to friends. Upcoming wellness events will be shared on Sheridan’s Twitter account and the campus events listing. On the Sheridan Student Services/Counselling pages you’ll find important resources including emergency contact information, what to do if you’re concerned about a friend’s mental wellbeing, and how to book an appointment with a counsellor.
Pictured at top of page: The Friendship Bench in the Trafalgar Campus B-wing with Sheridan Student Union President Sylvia Ibrahim (left), Sam Fiorella, Co-founder of The Friendship Bench (centre), and Marissa Amoroso, Senior Manager of Health and Counselling Services at Sheridan (right). Photo by Keiko Kataoka.
Written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan