We say it every day, often without thinking about it. But maybe we aren’t saying it enough, or to the people that need to hear it. Saying hello to someone can start a conversation, and there are a lot of people out there that need a chance to talk.

Listen to “Isolation: 100 Misfits with Sam Fiorella” on Spreaker.

That is why Sam Fiorella started #YellowIsForHello Campaign and the Yellow Bench Project, to encourage some conversations that need to be taking place. In 2014, Sam faced something no parent should ever experience, the loss of his son. Not only losing his son, but losing him to suicide, left Sam with many unanswered questions. Like many suicides, this seemingly came from out of the blue, Sam had no idea about his son Lucas’ secret suffering with depression. His son was 19, a successful student who was volunteering on a project for NASA, with many friends and a girlfriend. Yet he never opened up about his depression, a topic often considered taboo.

In his search for resolution, Sam discovered that Lucas had in fact helped several of his peers deal with their own issues: wanting to drop out of school, struggling with loneliness, even suicidal thoughts. In all of the stories people shared about how Lucas had helped them, every single one of them started the same way: Lucas just came up and simply said hello.

This inspired Sam to maintain Lucas’ legacy of helping others by creating the Yellow Is For Hello campaign, which is centered around donating a large bench to a secondary or post-secondary school. When a student is feeling isolated, struggling to connect with others, or ask for help, they can simply sit on the bench. Then, someone can join them at the bench and can “offer an ear to listen with, a shoulder to cry on or just a “hello.”’ The goal is to destigmatize honest conversations about mental health.

By starting a frank and open conversation, the student is then more likely to seek help, rather than suffer in silence. In fact, schools that have installed a Friendship Bench have seen an 18% increase in students coming forward to ask for help with mental health issues. Getting those who suffer from depression or similar mental health issues to overcome the barriers of admitting they are struggling is tremendous progress. Over half of those with depression do not share that they are suffering. And while Sam admits that he is neither a therapist or a counselor, his goal and the goal of his organization is not to offer counseling, but to make it okay for students to discuss their feelings without feeling judged, so that they may go get the help they need.

And though he is not a counselor, Sam has indeed dealt with extreme trauma, and offers great advice, especially for parents. First, if you have a child who you think may be suffering, make sure that you are also taking care of your own mental health needs. Much like the safety manual on an airplane will instruct you to put on your air mask before helping small children, you are of no use to someone else if you are struggling yourself. Become educated, seek counseling, and learn to validate your own feelings before assisting someone else.

That validation of feelings is key to Sam’s next piece of advice, which is to validate whatever your child might be feeling. As the title of this podcast indicates, all feelings matter; it is imperative that we let our children know that whatever they are feeling, it is okay. Let your kids know that you will love and accept them, no matter what. While you can share with your children what growing up was like for you, it’s important that you do so without judgement; they are going through hardships that you never did. Kids often have a healthy distrust of adults, and by actively listening to them with acceptance and validation, they will get over the awkward uncomfortableness of opening up about mental health.

The Yellow Is For Hello project has already installed dozens of Friendship Benches across the country with many more on the way, delivers frequent parent-focused lectures, issues a monthly newsletter for faculty and counselors of #yellowisforhello schools, and is initiating several new mental health campaigns. For more information, you can visit their campaign website yellowisforhello.org or check them out on social media. 100 Misfits is a collection of stories from students sharing their own mental health struggles. The stories have been collected by Sam with the hope of letting students know that they are not alone, and providing insight for parents. The stories can be read at 100misfits.com .

Mindful Takeaway

Depression doesn’t always show blatant signs. Sometimes someone, even a close loved one, may be struggling right in front of us. They might hide their suffering, or not mention certain issues, because our society has attached a stigma to being open about certain feelings. But discussing mental health is the first step to seeking help; sometimes a conversation can save a life. And it starts by simply saying hello.

By Ky Benkoi,

Writer for Mindful Appy

Ky Benko is an Elementary School teacher/librarian currently residing in the Netherlands where he enjoys riding bikes and eating cheese

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