The recent release of Netflix’s new program 13 Reasons Why has brought the issue of teen suicide into the spotlight, with school districts across B.C. warning parents about graphic imagery in the show.
One parent, however, has been bringing the issue to light for the past two years, and for him, the show hits quite close to home.
Sam Fiorella’s son Lucas committed suicide back in 2015, and ever since then Sam has been touring the country to bring awareness to the issue through the Yellow is For Hello campaign.
He joined Steele & Drex in studio to talk about how the fallout from his son’s tragic death motivated him to make a difference.
According to Sam, Lucas’ death came as a surprise to everyone as he didn’t fit the stereotype of someone who was depressed.
He says that while Lucas was happy on the outside, the reality was much darker.
“For six years, we discovered after his death, he was suffering greatly with depression.”
But Sam says Lucas was the one his friends depended on in times of need.
“He was the one they went to when they needed a hug, when they needed a shoulder to cry on.”
And Lucas’ emotional support extended beyond his close friends – he was always willing to lend a hand, even to complete strangers.
Sam says that many people came to his son’s funeral to tell him what Lucas meant to them, but one story stood out.
One girl told Sam of the first time she met Lucas – she was suicidal herself, and Lucas reached out and said hello, later helping her through her issues.
That simple act of saying hello served as an inspiration to Sam, who established the Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench non-profit group.
The non-profit places bright yellow benches on school campuses throughout Canada, to serve as a visible reminder to reach out.
Meanwhile, Sam is making a cross-country tour, raising awareness for youth suicide at schools across the nation.
It takes courage for him to speak so openly about his son’s death, but Sam says that’s nothing compared to what his son faced.
“He was suffering with depression, so much so that he couldn’t take it anymore… so if he could do it with that kind of pain, nothing’s going to stop me.”
And it’s worth the effort – Sam says the issue of suicide isn’t talked about enough in Canada.
In fact, Sam says his own family didn’t even open up about the issue.
“I’ve had two other people in my family who have taken their lives, and I didn’t know until my son died.”
He says the issue is so underrepresented that some schools ask him to avoid talking about his son’s death or saying the word “suicide” entirely.
“That’s their policy, but I hate it and I think it doesn’t work,” Sam says. “I think their policy is wrong.”
He says that in the age of social media, it’s only a matter of time before youth learn about suicide – in fact, most requests for benches come from the students themselves.
Sam wants parents across the country to be open about mental health.
“A lot of parents, in particular, are burying their heads in the sand and hoping that if we don’t talk about it it’s not going to happen. But if that was true, the number of teen suicides would not be escalating.”
All in all, Sam had one piece of advice for those parents.
“Have this conversation as frequently as possible, and listen without judgment.”
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, you can call Crisis Centre BC 24/7 at 1-866-661-3311.
Written by Tristan Martin-Woodhouse