It was like a meeting of old friends.
One thing that stood out was how the EmbraceD team had made me feel—in the truest sense of the word—embraced. Not for my depression or for the work I do, but accepted and welcomed as a person.
I’m honoured that they chose to feature my story and agreed to this interview.
Despite this being a final year school project, it was clear that their mental health campaign had little to do with grades. There was an unmistakable sense of conviction as they spoke, which could only be drawn from a place of personal experience.
Project: EmbraceD, an awareness campaign for depression
School: NTU, Wee Kim Wee School of Communications & Information (WKWSCI)
Team Members: Shahirah [S], Deyong [D], Eunice [E], Wei Qing [W]
1. You guys could’ve chosen to do anything for FYP – why mental health and specifically on depression?
[S]: We had lots of different ideas for our FYP before we finally settled on a campaign for depression. It was a topic that we deeply felt for because we all have had some experience with it, be it with a friend or loved one or at the very least knew someone who has had experience with mental health issues.
It is kind of the last “big thing” that we’ll ever do in school, so we wanted to do something that was meaningful, something that we felt passionate about.
[D]: It just sort of fell into place really. We knew that we wanted to do something for youths, so we kept asking ourselves, ‘what sort thing affects people our age?’. Then all of a sudden our project topic was decided and we started to work on it.
[E]: I remember we were at Coffee Bean when Weiqing simply said, why don’t we focus our topic on depression? So it just clicked. Like yeah, let’s!
Depression is an illness that’s very easily misunderstood and overlooked.
It doesn’t have a specific look and is also the most common. It also seemed to accompany other forms of mental illnesses. So I felt that if people could understand depression more, they’d also be able to better understand other mental conditions and we could reduce the stigma for mental illness in general.
[W]: Depression is an important topic to talk about since many people experience it at least once in their lifetime. However, there are not as many campaigns about depression as there should be.
I know of people, including myself, who had briefly gone through a period of depression. However, I feel helpless about helping others and wanted to do something about it.
This was one of the main reasons why I am enthusiastic about advocating awareness on depression because of my experiences with the illness. I feel something needs to be done to make it less of a taboo subject.
2. What does EmbraceD mean to you on a personal level?
[S]: It is about taking that step to try to make a difference. It is not easy to get people on board with what you’re advocating for.
Someone close to me has had depression, but at that point in time, I felt helpless and lost. I wanted to reach out to her and but I didn’t know how best to approach the situation. I always felt that I could have done more.
I’ve learnt a lot through EmbraceD because of all the research that we did. Talking with the different groups of people like yourself and Xun An and even the awesome people at CHAT like Ying Zhen, really puts things in perspective and broadens your view on things.
[W]: For me, this project is so that people could understand what it’s like being in my shoes.
When we have an idea on what it’s like to struggle with depression, we are better able to have a clearer idea on what to do to help.
[D]: I have seen various friends that I think could have been suffering from depression, but I just did not recognise it. Looking back, there were ways I could have helped them, but didn’t. They are better now, thankfully, but I just think that there may be so many other people in similar situations as I was, and I want to empower them to be able to do more.
[E]: EmbraceD is my personal journey in learning how to help myself and someone I love who has depression.
When I scoured the Internet for help, I could only find statistics and scattered information on depression, but not easily accessible, applied advice on how I can support someone.
When Weiqing brought up the topic of depression, I thought of my mother. I also found out that an ex-classmate was admitted to IMH by her family because she just wasn’t behaving or talking like her usual self.
I remember being very worried about her just as when another friend shared that her friend’s brother had just committed suicide 3 days before.
It was overwhelming. It felt like mental illness was happening all around me and, for the first time, I could see it. It wasn’t some article I read on Facebook or a distant blogpost by a writer in the US.
It was happening here, right in front of my eyes.
Mental illness is real, and it common—so common that I knew more than 5 people close to me who had some kind of mental health issues.
EmbraceD to me is also about showing genuine concern through hugs and spending precious time to accompany people who matter. Those are things that certainly help me when I’m really down and I don’t have to be alone with my thoughts.
3. What is your take on mental healthcare in Singapore?
[E]: To be honest, before this campaign I didn’t know much about mental health and mental healthcare in Singapore. I think that says something! (laughs)
Someone we interviewed for this campaign shared that with mental health services, a smaller proportion of your CPF is used to pay for psychiatric treatment, as compared to other treatments like dialysis or surgery.
I think government policies do shape how people perceive mental illness. If you allocate less funds for mental health then mental health is perceived of lesser importance. The industry seems to center policies around mental wellness, but they don’t really address illness.
However, I’m heartened to know that there are actually many places that offer help and treatment which I previously did not know existed. And I’m glad CHAT exists because they create a safe space for young people to have mental health conversations.
[S]: Like Eunice, I too had no impression of the mental healthcare scene in Singapore.
Maybe it’s because mental health is not something that people talk about as freely or as often as they do about topics such as heart disease or cancer or diabetes, so it is something that goes unnoticed/unseen/unspoken until something major happens.
So I feel that more needs to be done about mental health in Singapore, like getting people to talk about it more.
The more people talk about it, the less taboo it gets.
A lack of awareness and understanding about mental health issues breeds ignorance and it is this ignorance that causes stigma. So if more people start talking about it, then it is a step forward to making it a topic that people won’t shun away from.
[W]: I find it frustrating that mental illness is still a taboo subject in Singapore and that many people with the mental illness still hide it and refuse to seek help even though we have an advanced medical industry and Singaporeans are generally well-educated.
I feel like more could be done, perhaps in raising awareness and reducing the stigma for mental health, by the health authorities and schools. Mental illness should be taken as seriously as other physical illnesses because it affects us as much as physical illnesses.
[D]: My take is that mental healthcare is not a high priority for a lot of Singaporeans. Because it is not exactly something that it is quantifiable, people just think it doesn’t exist. As a result many people don’t step out to seek help.
4. What outcomes do you hope to achieve through this campaign?
[W]: Through our brochures and care packages, I hope that we can leave people some information and tips on how they can effectively help a friend with depression.
We have a roadshow that features an interactive exhibition: “The Invisible Museum”. It provides an insight into the lives of the people with depression. Even for myself, it really opened my eyes to the difficulties and experiences that people with depression face, and how different things had helped them with the recovery.
I hope that our visitors will have a better understanding of the illness after hearing these personal stories, and we’d have at least inspired people on the topic of depression and provide them with tools to learn more about the illness.
[S]: Through this campaign, I’d like for people to hear the stories from our different profiles and get to know them as individuals. To get to know them as people who are kind, talented and who are just like you and me.
I hope people can see that individuals who have mental health issues shouldn’t be judged based on their illness and that their illness doesn’t define them as individuals.
They are just like the rest of us if not better versions of us because they are fighters.
I also hope that people will see that there is help out there.
In fact plenty of help is available to suit different needs and requirements, not just IMH. I guess there are people who associate IMH with something that is negative (which shouldn’t be the case) so if they knew that there’s other forms of help or other organizations that offer help for mental health issues, they might be more willing to step forward and seek help.
[D]: I hope that people will take mental health and depression seriously – that people will no longer casually overuse the term ‘depression’. I hope that when people see the stories of people who have been through depression that they will be able to understand just how severe it can be.
Hopefully, people who suspect that their loved ones who might be undergoing depression would have the courage to speak up and help.
[E]: I’d like to see young people daring to step out to seek treatment. When they do, I also hope people will know not to judge them but know the steps they can take to help their friend.
I hope the public recognises depression as a real illness that affects real people, and hopefully we achieve this by showing the stories of those affected via our videos and Invisible Museum.
As for our website, it’s a one-stop portal for anyone who needs to know more about depression and would not need to dig deep into the depths of the Internet in order to find the answers.
It would be nice if people could stop making fun of mental illnesses and stop name-calling or minimising the severity mental illnesses like when they use mental conditions as an adjective. Eg, “I’m so OCD because I like to colour-coordinate my clothes”, or “I’m so depressed because the bag I wanted went out of stock”, etc.
I know these changes won’t take place overnight, but at least we’re planting the seeds for change! :)
Just TWO more days to the end of their series of roadshows. Do visit them at *SCAPE this weekend (7-8 Feb) from 10am-7pm!
All the best, EmbraceD and keep up the great work!!