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Police Are Implementing Social ‘Chat Benches’ Where Strangers Can Talk

Margaret Tionquiao

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  • Old age is not an easy period for so many people.
  • In addition to the sudden change in lifestyle, elderly people also have to deal with problems relating to isolation, boredom, and sometimes, even maltreatment from the society.
  • As such, some police units are installing benches which they call ‘Friendship Benches’ in an effort to help.
  • Through these benches, these police units hope to help alleviate loneliness among elderly people, and possibly cheer them up.
  • The benches were made available in public parks and are meant to help combat mental distress associated with isolation from the rest of the world.

Several police departments have decided to join in the fight against the ever-increasing prevalence of mental distress and isolation. In an effort to help fight this serious mental health problem common in many English towns, the Avon and Somerset Police Department have started designating public park benches as “friendship benches” where people will be able to sit and receive friendly greetings from everybody.

In a Facebook post made by the Avon and Somerset Police Department, they showed photos of what they call “Chat Benches” in Burnham and Tauton, with a note that reads,

THE “HAPPY TO CHAT” BENCH

Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping by to say hello.

The photo also came with a caption that urges people to say “hello” and help the vulnerable members of the society sitting in these benches.

Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said, “The Chat Bench is a fantastic new initiative that I hope encourages those of all ages to many more conversations in the future.” She also encouraged everyone to “stop by and say ‘hello'” saying that it could make their presence felt to the person on the bench. She also said that it would “make huge difference to that person’s life”, especially if he/she is going through something difficult. 

friendship-chat-benches

The same initiative is also being practiced in developing countries like Zimbabwe in Africa, where it seems successful in alleviating mental illness for thousands of the vulnerable group.

A review of the initiative showed that patients with depression or anxiety who received problem-solving therapy through the Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe were over three times less likely to experience depression symptoms after six months. Anxiety symptoms are also four times less likely and suicidal tendencies became five times less prevalent than the control group.

Grand Challenges Canada’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Peter A. Singer, said that mental distress is a major problem for many countries and that innovations like the “Friendship Bench” is needed.

“We need innovations like the Friendship Bench to flip the gap and go from 10% of people receiving treatment, to 90% of people receiving treatment.”

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