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‘You are not alone:’ Blue friendship benches installed across Windsor-Essex

CTV News Windsor – Rich Garton
July 26, 2023

A new initiative from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is hoping to give people the tools to engage and socialize the old fashioned way as a way to fight isolation and loneliness.

Blue ‘friendship benches’ have been installed in eight municipalities across the county and are being heralded as a beacon for belonging.

“It’s really a way to address stigma as it relates to mental health and addictions, and more importantly, a safe space,” said Kim Willis, the director of communications and mental health promotion at the Windsor-Essex CMHA.

It’s a partnership with the Windsor-Essex Community Foundation, modelled after similar programs in New York, The United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

Willis calls it a place to reflect and hopefully connect with others.

“We welcome others engage to in those conversations, we’re really missing that coming out of COVID, especially those interpersonal relationships, that sense of belonging, and community,” Willis said.

It’s also a passive tool the Windsor-Essex CMHA is using to reach people who may need help.

On each friendship bench there’s a QR code which when scanned directs the user to resources in the community.

One service in particular the CMHA is highlighting is the new Wellness and Recovery College.

“It’s all about people with lived experience having a connection with other people with lived experience,” said Michelle Belmont, a peer support worker with the college.

Belmont has that lived experience with mental health and addictions. In recovery now for five years, she now helps others on their journey through free, five-week-long classes focused on harm reduction, self-care, well-being, coping mechanisms and community building.

“My life experience could help someone else, but their life experience helps me,” said Belmont, who said the program, like the benches, share the same mantra. “Wellness and recovery college focuses on you are not alone.”

For more information, find a bench, scan the QR code or just have a sit.

“We need to do more to encourage those sense of belonging and connection,” said Willis.

“It’s who we are, as humans, that we thrive on those interpersonal relationships.”