Friendship benches would be safe space for well-being

The idea of friendship benches is, in essence, that of a safe space where anyone can sit and discuss difficult issues such as unhappiness, depression, or suicidal thoughts with a trusted friend.
Friendship benches would be safe space for well-being

Councillor Mick Nugent is bringing the concept of the friendship bench to Cork. The North-West ward Sinn Féin councillor, who is a long-time member of Shine A Light Suicide and Mental Health Awareness, told The Echo he believes friendship benches are something from which the city will benefit. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A CITY councillor has launched a pilot scheme which would introduce to Cork the concept of the friendship bench.

The idea of friendship benches is, in essence, that of a safe space where anyone can sit and discuss difficult issues such as unhappiness, depression, or suicidal thoughts with a trusted friend.

The concept comes from Zimbabwe, a country where one in four people suffers with some form of mental illness, but where there are only 15 psychiatrists and 16 psychologists serving a population of 14 million.

With so few treatment options for Zimbabwean people struggling with their mental health, psychiatrist Dr Dixon Chibanga turned to the grandmothers. Dr Chibanga began training grandmothers as lay therapists in psychosocial counselling, teaching them to use established methods of talk therapy.

Zimbabwe now has more than 100 friendship benches, in the capital Harare, and in the neighbouring city of Chitungwiza and in Gweru, and the grandmothers, taking turns to listen on the bench, have grown into a small army of more than 300 pastoral volunteers in the fight against kufungisisa.

Now, Councillor Mick Nugent is bringing the concept of the friendship bench to Cork. The North-West ward Sinn Féin councillor, who is a long-time member of Shine A Light Suicide and Mental Health Awareness, told The Echo he believes friendship benches are something from which the city will benefit.

“Through funding that is available through the local area committee, this will be a pilot scheme for friendship benches, initially with one bench in Gerry O’Sullivan Park, near the Shine A Light tree of hope, and one in the Fair Field, and hopefully they will be spread across the city,” Mr Nugent said.

“The idea would be that you would have a bench, in the purple colour of Shine A Light, just somewhere for people to sit and have a chat with a friend, or possibly even a stranger, someone that might like to talk to somebody to break a bit of loneliness or share the burden of the day.

“The benches will have phone numbers on them for the Samaritans and Pieta House and the HSE’s text service as well,” Mr Nugent said.

If you are affected by any issue in this article, please contact Pieta House on 1800-247247 or text HELP to 51444; or Samaritans can be contacted 24/7 on freephone 116 123 and email at jo@samaritans.ie. Visit the HSE’s www.yourmentalhealth.ie or call 1800-111888.

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