Mental health takes centre stage in upcoming play

From left: Dear Jay's producer Benedict Leong, director Hazel Ho and playwright Euginia Tan. The play was inspired by Mr Leong and Ms Tan's correspondence with each other on their experiences with mental health. Mr Leong also acts as the play's chara
From left: Dear Jay's producer Benedict Leong, director Hazel Ho and playwright Euginia Tan. The play was inspired by Mr Leong and Ms Tan's correspondence with each other on their experiences with mental health. Mr Leong also acts as the play's character Leonard, whose close friend Jay committed suicide.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Two young adults turn e-mail exchange on the issue into a project to raise awareness

Two young people have taken the courageous step of telling their own stories about their struggles with mental health in a play so that they can help others.

Dear Jay is produced by Mr Benedict Leong, 23, and written by Ms Euginia Tan, 25, and was inspired by their real-life correspondence with each other.

To be staged at the Esplanade later this month, it comes at a time when youth suicides are at a 15-year high in Singapore.

Mr Leong and Ms Tan met at a theatre festival in June and decided to work together on the play after learning of each other's experience with mental illness.

Mr Leong told The Straits Times: "Theatre was a medium that we felt we were comfortable with, and it has the potential to transform people's mindsets."

For about two to three months, they e-mailed each other about the ups and downs in their lives, eventually using some of the exchanges in writing the play.

The journeys taken by the lead characters towards wellness are drawn from their own lives as well as the lives of others who they know to have mental illness.

  • ABOUT THE PLAY

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio

    WHEN: Dec 15-18, various times

    ADMISSION: $35. To get tickets, email askbluebean@gmail.com

    INFO: facebook.com/bluebeanproductions

  • HELPLINES

    SAMARITANS OF SINGAPORE (SOS): 1800- 221-4444 (24-hour)

    SINGAPORE ASSOCIATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH: 1800-283-7019

    CARE CORNER COUNSELLING CENTRE (MANDARIN): 1800-353-5800

Said Ms Tan: "During my teenage years, I used to volunteer at an anonymous answering service for a website that provided online help for people in need. Of course, being an anonymous service, we used aliases to protect our identities."

This was a practice adopted by Mr Leong and Ms Tan in their e-mails to each other, and it helped them have a greater sense of security when sharing details about their lives with each other.

People open up more about their feelings behind a screen, said Ms Tan, a freelance writer.

Mr Leong plays Leonard, who goes through a range of emotions and has to cope with grief after his close friend Jay commits suicide.

He said: "Performing my life story has been part of my recovery process. The big step for me to get better is to accept that I have a mental illness and acknowledge it." Mr Leong is the co-founder of Blue Bean Productions, the theatre company presenting the play.

Cast members - who include people with and without mental illness - and people from mental health organisations will sit in for a panel discussion with the audience after each performance. The organisations include Over The Rainbow, Silver Ribbon, HappYouth and Singapore Association for Mental Health.

Mr Leong hopes the play and panel discussions will help the public understand what it is like to live with mental illness and how they can support those who have it.

He also hopes that those with mental illness will be more willing to speak up about their condition and take steps to achieve mental wellness.

Ms Tan added: "We hope that the play speaks to everyone personally and intimately, and ultimately give them some hope that nobody is alone in their suffering."

Over The Rainbow co-founder Chow Yen Lu said: "I see this play as a continuation of the conversation on mental wellness."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline 'Mental health takes centre stage in upcoming play'. Print Edition | Subscribe