Students learn about anxiety disorder through virtual reality

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee (second from right) and Touch Community Services CEO James Tan (right) trying out the Virtual Reality Immersive Experience. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Touch Community Services has introduced an interactive video that uses virtual reality to help the youth understand anxiety disorder better.

The Virtual Reality (VR) Immersive Experience employs the "choose your own adventure" concept where participants make choices for a fictitious character named Jane who suffers from anxiety disorder. The choices have an impact on how the symptoms of anxiety play out for Jane.

The game also teaches participants about the signs and symptoms of anxiety.

The interactive video is part of the Do You M.I.N.D? mental wellness education programme for secondary school students by Touch Youth Intervention.

Each VR Immersive Experience runs for 20 minutes with facilitation and can accommodate 40 participants.

An earlier video launched in 2018 was on depression.

On Friday (Feb 7), Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee tried out the VR Immersive Experience during a visit to Touch Community Services.

Speaking to the media after the session, Mr Lee said the character in the game faced stress from her parents, family conflict and even domestic violence, all of which created the conditions for anxiety.

Noting that mental well-being required a multi-pronged approach, Mr Lee said: "You can work on mental well-being with a child, but actually, the family may also be facing a whole range of other issues, including like those in the VR video."

Touch Youth Intervention has worked with 26 secondary schools to roll out the VR Immersive Experience, educating some 3,848 students on mental health.

When surveyed by Touch, 87 per cent of the students said that after going through the programme, they were more willing - and had more confidence - to interact with persons with mental health issues. Most were also able to identify the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Touch counsellors say they are seeing more cases involving mental health issues among those aged 12 to 21, including anxiety disorder.

Ms Andrea Chan, 33, who heads Touch Intervention, told The Straits Times that two more VR Immersive Experience videos will be launched this year - one on eating disorders and the other on self-harm.

Yesterday, Mr Lee announced an initiative to canvass for views and ideas on youth mental well-being, which can be submitted at http://www.reach.gov.sg/youth-mental-well-being. It builds on the SG Youth Action Plan launched in May last year.

"We want to hear your ideas, comments, feedback and critique, and see how we can work together to strengthen the framework and environment for youth mental well-being in Singapore," said Mr Lee.

The VR Immersive Experience was unveiled in October during the 9th International Together Against Stigma Conference organised by the National Council of Social Service and the Institute of Mental Health.

Touch Community Services has also launched DigitalMindset to help young people who have developed mental health issues from excessive gaming and device use.

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