The Canadian Mental Health Association - Calgary Region is kicking off its Mental Health Week by unveiling the first Friendship Bench in the city and officials say it will provide a place for people to speak openly about mental health issues.

The bright, yellow bench is located at 1040 7th Avenue S.W. and was unveiled at a ceremony on Monday morning.

The bench will provide a safe space for Calgarians to connect with peers and it will serve as a permanent and visual reminder of the importance of openly discussing mental health concerns.

“This has just been an absolute gift and honour,” said Laureen MacNeil, Executive Director of CMHA Calgary. “This yellow bench movement is really increasing awareness, especially in the youth and the university age group and so to be the first organization in Canada to receive a yellow bench so that anyone can walk in and be guided on a very welcoming journey to start to maybe ask some questions around mental health or sub issues. So this is as upstream as you can get when somebody can sit down and relax and just feel comfortable that somebody cares.”

The Friendship Bench was founded by Sam Fiorella, who lost his 19-year-old son to suicide in 2014.

Fiorella has since dedicated his time to spreading awareness and to encouraging post-secondary students to get help and have peer-to-peer conversations about mental health.

 “The yellow, Friendship Bench is inspired by my son who we lost about four years ago after he suffered from depression for many years silently. What we discovered after his death is that while he was suffering silently he was reaching out to others that he thought needed help. We heard many stories after he died of him reaching out, keeping people in school when they were about to drop out of school or stopping them from taking their life when they had suicidal ideation. And we thought, isn’t it a shame that Lucas isn’t here to continue to say hello to all of these people who were suffering in silence like he was and save some people. And so this program was created to inspire others to take a minute out of their day, say hello to their peers and open up the possibility of a conversation about how they’re feeling, their mental health, in hopes that it will then inspire them to get the help that Lucas inspired others to get,” said Fiorella.

There are currently over 50 yellow benches across Canada but this is the first non-school location in the country to receive a Friendship Bench for mental health.

“This bench isn’t necessarily designed to be a place to go when you’re having trouble. It’s really more a reminder, a visual representation of two people sitting down and talking to each other. Get off your phones for a minute, get off of digital media, get off your computers and actually talk to people face-to face,” said Fiorella.

Fiorella says the goal of the campaign is to have a yellow bench in every post-secondary school in the country.

Strategic Group supplied the funds to sponsor and install the bench outside CMHA Calgary’s head office.

For more information on The Friendship Bench, click HERE.