What hasn’t been said about mental health in Singapore? Or rather, has anything even been said? Despite growing awareness on the subject, it remains a prevalent stigma for many; making them hesitant to acknowledge that they need to seek out help.
It is a particular problem for males argues this movement. The pressure to maintain an outwardly ‘macho’ exterior ultimately prevents them from opening up about their problems and ultimately leads them to keep to themselves to stay quiet. Their silence is deafening.
But more people are stepping up to shine a light on the issue, not least the team behind Dare To Share, a mental health wellness campaign targeted towards male teens and the first in Singapore to do so.
So who’s behind Dare To Share?
They are a team made out of four final year undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information — Loh Wei Liang (25), Ong Yun Qi (24), Stefanie Dana Oh Qiaorong (23), and Poh Wei Tai (26). Their goal? To reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental health.
For the team’s male members — Wei Liang and Wei Tai — the campaign was born out of their personal experiences.
“Personally, I never reflected much on my own mental health; looking back, I had subconsciously subscribed to the misconceptions put out by society that seeing a therapist meant that there was something very wrong with someone,” said Wei Tai.
Wei Liang added to that, saying, “Growing up, I struggled to conform to societal expectations for males to be stoic and indifferent. Fear of being seen as weak by my peers has definitely made me adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms such as bottling up my troubles and issues, and it has been distressing for me at times. I think because I have never properly tried opening up, I have instances where I find it hard to properly verbalise my emotions and feelings even today.”
The same can be said for the female members of the team, who have both had instances of friends and family members struggling with their own battles; the Dare To Share campaign is their way of trying to turn the tide against the stigma of male mental health.
“The sad truth is that stigma is a huge barrier to males seeking help. I have witnessed some of my own friends and family sacrifice their mental health, all because they were afraid of being judged. Most of the time, they don’t even realise that something is wrong, because they are conditioned to ‘be strong’. First, why can’t males show their emotions? Second, why does having a mental health condition make you weak? These are stigmas that have to go because they only cause harm to our society. Which is why I believe strongly in Dare To Share’s impact to normalise seeking help,” Stefanie explained.
What’s the strategy for Dare To Share?
Their strategy then is a curious, but targeted one — specifically aiming for the male teens aged 14 to 17.
When asked why such a specific range was being used, the team pointed me to some damning statistics. As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age, rising up to nearly three quarters by age 18.
Closer to home, it does not get better. The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) have recorded 2018 being a record high year for suicides among boys aged 10 to 19; the highest it had been since 1991, the year SOS began keeping records.
So we’ve got the why, now onto the how.
How does Date To Share reach out?
Dare To Share is being set up as a communication campaign and aims to reach their demographic on popular social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. The content produced on those platforms has been tailored to engage with people within the age group.
On their Instagram account, they’ve employed appealing comic-drawn styled male teen mascots in many of the posts. They deliver nifty pieces of advice and information on seeking help for mental health.
Their TikTok takes a slightly different approach, utilising the very prevalent meme culture as the basis and moulding it together with messages on mental health wellness. One TikTok has member Wei Liang dancing to a song called Stop Spreading Those Rumors Around from animated TV show ‘The Proud Family’ to, well, stop spreading rumours that opening up about mental health is weak.
Dare To Share’s approach overall is a smart one, seeing as how the culture of social media makes content and communication so shareable. Combining the vast user base becomes a highly penetrative platform to share the group’s message.
But their work goes beyond posting useful information on social media. The group has also managed to engage key opinion leaders for the campaign, including Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar GRC Dr Wan Rizal.
Their weekly video series, which appears on their IGTV section, sees the group interviewing them and conversing about their personal thoughts and stories on mental health. The candid nature of the interviews is seen as a way to inspire male teens into doing the same for their own health.
Where does Dare To Share go from here?
The Dare To Share group is also collecting stories of mental health experiences from the public, hoping that by sharing the journeys of individuals on their social media platforms, it will normalise the conversation around them.
Indeed, the group’s work comes with a heavy responsibility, given the topic’s sensitive nature, but it has been a fulfilling one this far.
“What we didn’t expect were people coming forward with their stories, some of which were complicated and emotionally heavy. We were not in a position to offer professional expertise. Not being able to provide tangible help of any kind—it upset us. Thankfully, we had the support from our community partners, who were able to guide us in our responses. However, coming face to face with these real stories, it made us realise how much we still did not know, and how much work we still have to do collectively as a society,” says Yun Qi.
Visuals courtesy of Dare To Share.