The Friendship Bench: Cons

unknown

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.