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Friendship benches coming to Happy Valley-Goose Bay

Lianna Rice participating in a World Suicide Prevention Day Walk in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Monday, Sept. 10.
Lianna Rice participating in a World Suicide Prevention Day Walk in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Monday, Sept. 10. - Contributed

Inspiring conversations about mental health to reduce stigma and encourage people to seek help

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L.

NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

CANADA

Lianna Rice of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is continuing her efforts to raise $20,000 to buy and place seven friendship benches within the community.

Friendship benches were launched in April 2015 by the family of Carleton University student Lucas Fiorella, who suffered from depression and died by suicide in Oct. 2014.

Since the establishment of The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench organization,

bright yellow friendship benches have been placed at high schools, colleges, universities and other areas in communities throughout the country.

The bench is a reminder to students to take a moment out of their day to sit and talk about their mental health and that of their friends. The benches inspire peer-to-peer conversations about mental health to reduce the stigma and encourage more students to seek help.

Each bench comes with a barcode on the back so that, when people scan their phone, a list of nearby mental health resources will appear on the screen.

There is also an affiliated #YellowIsForHello campaign that connects students to digital awareness and education campaigns.

Rice knows all too well how it feels to lose a loved one through suicide. Her brother, Lorne, died by suicide in 2016.

She got the idea of raising funds for friendship benches after her parents, Clifford and Elizabeth Rice, told her about a story they saw on the news about how Gonzaga High School in St. John’s had purchased a friendship bench.

“My parents thought this was a beautiful idea and it was how I was introduced to the friendship bench project,” Rice said.

The benches are for raising awareness about mental health, creating safe spaces for people living with mental illness to talk, and educating people about how to support one another, she said.

“In Happy Valley-Goose Bay we see really high rates of suicide and (a) lot of people living with suicidal ideation and mental illness, or people who are just going through difficult times in their lives,” she said. “We need to promote conversations about these things, about coming together as a community and helping each other.”

Rice has a message for anyone in her community who may feel unwell, mentally.

“I just want them to know that they are not alone,” she said. “What we are trying to do in extending the friendship benches to Goose Bay is to create a more supportive community for people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives, it’s a chance for them to find support.”

How would her brother feel about what she is doing?

“My brother was a very kind and amazing and supportive person,” Rice said. “After he passed we had so many people reach out to us to say how he helped them through difficult times. I know he would like this project.”

Rice welcomes monetary donations as well as items for an online auction that she’s in the process of planning.

Cheque donations can be made out to 'Labrador Friendship Centre' with the note section saying “Friendship Bench Project” and can be brought to the Labrador Friendship Centre finance department Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. or 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Cash donations are also accepted.

Auction item donations will be accepted until Sept. 26.

For information on how to contribute to Rice’s project visit Friendship Bench Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Facebook or e-mail friendshipbenchhvgb@gmail.com.

More information on the national friendship bench campaign can be found at www.thefriendshipbench.org or The Friendship Bench on Facebook.

danette@nl.rogers.com

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