The Friendship Bench: Cons

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In this blog post we’ll be exploring why the Friendship Bench doesn’t work and how it is ineffective in combating loneliness.

  • The Weather
    • They don’t call it raincouver for nothing. Putting the Friendship Bench outdoors doesn’t seem very practical for everyday use. This year in particular it rained hard almost everyday during the months of October and November. Students are less likely to want to be outside when it’s ugly outside, let alone sit on a bench and chat. Unfortunately UBC didn’t pick the most practical or encouraging spot to put the bench, it may have been better placed somewhere central and indoors – perhaps the nest (main student hub).
  • Othering
    • The Friendship Bench encourages conversations about one’s mental health. This begs the question: do we label ourselves as mentally ill just by sitting on the bench?
    • A  piece by bell hooks entitled “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance” explains that within society, there is “pleasure to be found in the acknowledgement and enjoyment of …difference” (21) and therefore exploitation as well. It’s an interesting topic to explore. Do we label ourselves just by sitting on a yellow bench? Does this bench actually promote judgement by the people walking by, rather than acceptance and honesty? Is this in so some way a form of public humiliation that we inflict on ourselves with good intention? Unfortunately this bench equates loneliness with mental illness, which is problematic because then by sitting down the bench, one might be labelled as mentally ill rather than labelled as trying to make a friend.
    • While this is exactly the stigma that the bench is working against and there are no right answers to the questions posed above, passers by must explore whether or not this bench actually feeds into the stigma it’s trying to break down.
  • Time
    • Students and faculty are very busy. There are ten minutes in between classes and if students do have a break between classes, they often want to use this time to get ahead on school work. I can’t imagine a time where I would feel that I had the time to sit and wait for someone to sit next to me.
    • The bench is supposed to be a reminder to take time out of your day to breathe and to stop for a minute and chat with someone, but will anyone actually do it? Time will tell.
  • What if?
    • It takes courage to sit down on the Friendship Bench. There are a lot of uncertainties involved: What if no one sits down next to me? What if I don’t like them? What if they judge me? What if we don’t click? What if it’s awkward? What if other people are judging me?
    • The people that the bench is designed to help (people who are lonely or who suffer from mental illness) would likely struggle with these questions more than anyone. They are the least likely to put themselves in such a vulnerable situation as to sit down on a bright yellow bench that screams “I’m lonely and want to talk about my mental health” for all of UBC to see.
    • While the bench was designed to bring attention to the conversation surrounding mental health and loneliness (which are not the same thing), it may end up bringing more attention to the individuals rather than the conversation, which can be quite harmful to someone who may already be struggling with these issues. The Friendship Bench is not exactly approachable and may be considered a safe space for conversations surrounding mental health, but might not be a safe and comfortable space for an individual to put themselves in.

hooks, bell. (1992). Eating the other: desire and  resistance. In Black looks: race and representation, pp. 21-39.

The Friendship Bench: Pros

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In this post we will be exploring the ways in which the Friendship Bench works and some of the positive ways that it works to combat loneliness on campus.

  • Inclusive
    • The best part about this bench is that it doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can sit here no matter their gender, race, class, ability, or age. If the person is on the UBC campus, this bench is available to them.
    • Lynet Uttal has a written piece called “Nods that Silence” in which she expresses her frustration for complacent agreement when it comes to conversations surrounding social justice . This bench is a way for students to “learn to listen as well as hear on another” (319). Therefore combating the complacent agreement surrounding loneliness, this bench breaks the silence and forces a conversation surrounding mental health and loneliness. Once one sits on this bench, they get to reclaim their subjectivity and feel free to say exactly what is on their mind to a stranger who is willing to listen.
  • Initiation
    • Initiation is easy. All you have to do is sit. There is no pressure to sit or not to sit, only if you feel like it. Once you have initiated by sitting on the bench, other people are more likely to come and join.
    • The bench itself is an icebreaker. There is no need for awkward small talk because the bench itself is something to talk about. The whole idea behind the friendship bench is to start a conversation about a person’s mental state, whether they’re in a good place or a bad place, the idea is to get a conversation started. So no need to worry about being awkward – the conversation topics have already been chosen.
  • Face to Face
    • Another great part about this bench is that it requires face to face action. This is a way for lonely people to come and find another lonely person and talk in real life – not behind a screen. One of the biggest contributors to loneliness, according to Forbes magazine, is technology. While we may think that social media is keeping us closer to the people we love, it actually makes it easier for us to avoid human contact – contributing heavily to loneliness. This bench is an awesome way to combat that, by sitting on this bench it forces a face to face conversation and encourages meeting new people who may even become friends.
  • Free
    • The best part about the Friendship Bench is that it’s free. You can sit on the bench all day if you like and you won’t be charged a penny. Unfortunately, our capitalist society often takes advantage of the issues that we have by commodifying them. Many companies have taken advantage of loneliness by selling a solution, charging for professional cuddling services is an example of these.
    • Even going out with friends is rarely a free activity – coffee, dinner, drinks can all add up, making socializing and combating loneliness an expensive necessity.
    • This bench is a free way to create human contact and conversation which is a rarity in our society today.

 

Utall, Lynet. (1990). “Nods that Silence.” In Anzaldua, G. (ed.), Making Face, making soul, hacienda caras,  pp. 317-320.

The Friendship Bench: What is it?

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UBC recently put a Friendship Bench on West Mall. The Friendship Bench is a yellow bench that encourages students to sit down and chat to each other. The bench is supposed to be a safe space for people to talk honestly and openly about mental health and really answer the question “how are you?” with more than just a few words.

The Lucas Fiorello Friendship Bench is a not-for-profit initiative that started when Lucas Fiorello took his own life in 2014. His family and friends remembered him as someone who reached out to others who were suffering from depression and anxiety, even though he was facing those issues himself.

With the hashtag #yellowisforhello, the bench is a reminder to students to take time to everyday to “to sit, breathe and talk (or think) about their mental health and that of their friends”. It has been implemented in universities and secondary schools to help students combat loneliness by creating face-to-face connections with other students.

 

“The Friendship Bench – About.” The Friendship Bench, Dec. 6 2016, https://thefriendshipbench.org/the-lucas-fiorella-friendship-bench/