Secondary school students to learn about depression through virtual reality experience

(From left) Hougang Secondary School students Malabanan Ace Brendan Malones and Phoebe Teo trying the Virtual Reality Immersive Experience on depression with help from teacher Madeline Neo at HarbourFront MRT station. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - 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.

Besides the VR sessions, Touch also launched a mental health-themed train at HarbourFront MRT station on Tuesday (Oct 30) to promote public awareness and education on mental health.

On the interior of the train is information on the four common mental health conditions among youth that the organisation sees - depression, self-harm, anxiety and eating disorders. There is also information on coping methods and short stories from people who have these conditions.

The train is scheduled to run for 18 hours daily until the end of November on the North East Line. The campaign is expected to reach some 840,000 commuters.

The mental health-themed train is scheduled to run for 18 hours daily until the end of November 2018 on the North East Line. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Touch chief executive officer James Tan said the organisation decided to use VR to educate students on mental health as that method has been shown by research to be more effective than some other learning methods.

Research in January last year from 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 to a 5 per cent and a 10 per cent rate for lecture-style learning and reading respectively, he added.

Besides educational programmes in schools, Touch also provides counselling and therapy, as well as a peer support group programme for youths at risk, or those who have mental health conditions.

Mayor of North East District Desmond Choo, who was guest of honour at the launch, said that 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."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.