Janet Szliske | CUPE Communications

Vancouver Island University local CUPE 1858 in Nanaimo is the first Canadian union local to sponsor a Friendship Bench project. The purpose of the project is to raise mental health awareness, provide opportunities for those struggling to reach out to others, and encourage discussion of mental health challenges.

“This program spoke to our members because it shines a light on mental health issues our students and colleagues face every day,” said CUPE 1858 President Deborah Hopper.

Mental health challenges, particularly anxiety and depression, are on the rise at post-secondary institutions. Despite the significant impacts on faculty, staff and students, the stigma surrounding this issue often creates barriers for those seeking treatment and support.

Lucas Fiorella was a student at Carleton University, in Ottawa, who was active, seemed happy and had many friends. He reached out to others who were suffering from depression, anxiety or stress. His suicide in 2014 was the first people learned about his struggle with depression. Through the Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench campaign, created to continue his legacy of reaching out, friendship benches have been placed in high schools and post-secondary institutions to provide information about counseling services and resources on campus.

“By having a Friendship Bench on campus, we hope to normalize discussion of mental health challenges within our community and help people who really need it,” said Hopper.

CUPE 1858 joined the Friendship Bench project to mark its 40th anniversary and invite other locals who work in post-secondary or high schools to bring these benches to their facilities.