SINGAPORE – A safe space and a listening ear will soon arrive in a van in the neighborhoods of Queenstown.
With a counselor and trained friends on board, the traveling vehicle is also equipped with an artificial intelligence (AI) scouting tool to help staff determine the level of support a person needs.
The van is part of an initiative launched on Sunday (October 10) – World Mental Health Day – which aims to educate Queenstown residents about the importance of mental wellness and reduce social stigma around health mental.
The initiative, Safe Pod @ Queenstown, is a collaboration between grassroots organizations in the constituency and community partners, such as the social service agency Lions Befrienders and Fei Yue Community Services.
Wellness friends – community volunteers trained by Lions Befrienders – and a counselor will take care of the van, which will be parked in different areas on a schedule to be announced at a later date.
Among the friends are students from Bukit Merah High School and Queensway High School, who will also be offering peer support to their classmates.
The van’s AI tool – software running on a laptop computer – will analyze residents’ facial expressions and map their positive and negative emotions.
This technology is currently being tested by Lions Befrienders as part of its other initiative targeting the elderly in Singapore.
Residents can also chat with counselors in the Safe Pod rooms of the Queenstown Mei Ling Residential Committee Center, Block 150 Mei Ling Street.
These counseling sessions can be booked through the Queenstown Community Center or the Leng Kee Community Club.
Mr. Eric Chua, who is Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development as well as Culture, Community and Youth, helped develop the initiative.
Speaking at the launch event on Sunday, he noted: “Since Covid-19 hit our shores early last year, dealing with the many changes in the way we live, work, play and let’s learn has most definitely had an impact on our mental well-being.
“Mental health is health. It is important that we take care of our mental well-being, in the same way that we take care of our physical health.”
One in seven adults here have reportedly suffered from some form of mental health problem at some point in their life, he said, citing the results of the Singapore Mental Health Study conducted in 2016.
“The same survey also found that a large majority – up to 78% of people with mental health issues – had not sought help,” he said.
This could be due to the stigma associated with seeking help, he added, citing a 2017 study by the National Council of Social Services.
He found that six in ten respondents believe that mental health problems are caused by a lack of self-discipline and willpower.
More than half of the 1,796 people surveyed also said they did not want to live with, live near, or work with someone with a mental health problem.
“I think this is symptomatic of how little understanding we have about mental health issues and people with these issues,” Chua told reporters.
He added: “It is time that we really dispel these misunderstandings. “