Learning about depression via VR tools

Above: Students wearing a VR headset will take on the persona of a virtual character - a girl who suffers from depression - and listen to her inner thoughts. Left: Hougang Secondary students Malabanan Ace Brendan Malones, 13, and Phoebe Teo Jianing,
Above: Hougang Secondary students Malabanan Ace Brendan Malones, 13, and Phoebe Teo Jianing, 13, and teacher Madeline Neo, 32, at the launch of the VR Immersive Experience.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO
Above: Students wearing a VR headset will take on the persona of a virtual character - a girl who suffers from depression - and listen to her inner thoughts. Left: Hougang Secondary students Malabanan Ace Brendan Malones, 13, and Phoebe Teo Jianing,
Above: Students wearing a VR headset will take on the persona of a virtual character - a girl who suffers from depression - and listen to her inner thoughts. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Session is part of mental health programme by Touch Community for secondary students

Students at some secondary schools will have a chance to use virtual reality (VR) to understand what it is like to have depression.

By donning a VR headset, they will take on the persona of a virtual character - a girl who suffers from depression - and listen to her inner thoughts like their own.

After the two-minute session, the students will discuss the scenario and how they feel.

The one-time sessions, to be conducted by staff from Touch Community Services, are part of a programme called Do You M.I.N.D.? that teaches secondary school students about mental health through games and classroom learning.

Started by the charitable organisation in October last year, Do You M.I.N.D.? has reached out to about 900 students from eight secondary schools so far.

Touch also launched a mental health-themed train at HarbourFront MRT station yesterday.

Inside the train is information on the four common mental health conditions among the youth that the organisation sees - depression, self-harm, anxiety and eating disorders. There is also information on coping methods and short stories by sufferers. The train runs for 18 hours daily on the North East Line until the end of next month.

MEDICAL CONDITION

I think there is still a general lack of awareness of what is depression and anxiety. To many people, it is just a temporary thing that you can snap out of. But for somebody facing this, it is a real medical condition.

MR DESMOND CHOO, Mayor of North East District, on the misconceptions about mental illness.

The campaign is expected to reach some 840,000 commuters.

Touch chief executive James Tan said VR learning has been shown by research to be more effective than some other learning methods.

Research in January last year by the National Training Laboratory, a non-profit organisation which deals with applied behavioural science, showed that VR training yielded a 75 per cent retention rate, compared with 5 per cent and 10 per cent rate from lecture-style learning and reading, he added.

 
 

Touch also provides counselling and therapy, and a peer support group programme for youths at risk or those with mental health conditions.

Mayor of North East District Desmond Choo, who was guest of honour at the launch, said awareness of mental health still needs to be promoted because of misconceptions. "I think there is still a general lack of awareness of what is depression and anxiety," he added.

"To many people, it is just a temporary thing that you can snap out of. But for somebody facing this, it is a real medical condition."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2018, with the headline 'Learning about depression via VR tools'. Print Edition | Subscribe