Raising awareness about depression in Singapore with Project SMILE

Project SMILE has recently embarked on a mission to create awareness about the grave issue of depression in Singapore...

In 2010, a group of like-minded women in Singapore came together to raise funds with a single motive - to provide assistance to disadvantaged women in society. Under the able leadership of Chairman and founder, Mrs Uma Balji, Project SMILE (Supporting and Motivating Individual Ladies with Empowerment) was formed.

Today, with nearly fifty ladies under their care, Project SMILE helps families through psycho-social support. Apart from providing interim financial assistance, emotional support and training programs, they have also extended their engagements to the immediate families of these women, as an opportunity to bond with their families and to socially integrate them back into society.

What is truly heartening is that Project SMILE also provides Skills Empowerment for the disadvantaged women, in the view that they will not only learn how to fish, but also sustain the skills they have now learnt. They believe that, this, together with other aiding factors, will help in the upliftment of these women. 

Project SMILE has also recently embarked on a mission to create awareness about the grave issue of depression.

"Depression, a leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, is not a topic talked about openly. Loss of face and societal pressure holds individuals and families from speaking about it, resulting in frightful circumstances of families breaking apart, neglect, isolation, financial deficiency, self-harm, and even suicide."

"Garnering society to talk about depression is an important first step towards acknowledging its presence and finding possible resolutions", says Singapore mum Uma Balji. 

The play "Mindless Whispers", is a fund raising initiative from Project SMILE that aims to start a much needed discussion on depression in the community. Money raised from "Mindless Whispers" will go to Project SMILE’s Home Based Skills Development Programme.

We ask Uma Balji more about the work done by Project SMILE...read on!

Can you tell us a little more about what exactly you do at Project Smile? 

SMILE reaches out to women who are faced with different challenges in life. Through referrals from Family Service Centres and through applications from the general public, the organization identifies beneficiaries who would benefit from the assistance to uplift them from their dire situation.

In most circumstances, the beneficiaries are provided with interim financial means to manage their immediate difficulties; thereafter, once stabilised, other measures of long-term aid in the form of individualised training and/or upgrading is looked into.

Regardless of the size of the support, the aim of the assistance is to help the women get themselves and/or their families back on track in their lives.

When it comes to mental health, do you feel that women are more reluctant to approach experts and receive treatment?

It is not that women do not want to receive treatment. Most times, they are unaware that they are even experiencing the symptoms of depression. Thus, unable to seek the relevant intervention. There are several platforms that can be tapped on nowadays, even cyber counselling. Women need not feel shy or look upon it as a stigma to see a counsellor. It is about enriching their lives!

How common is depression among women in Singapore?

In Singapore, we have seen that women are affected at different life stages, not just mums. We see women encountering, and trying their best to mitigate two main areas of concern - baby blues and menopause.

We have seen how depression has, and continues to take a toll on almost every segment of a person’s life. We have also seen how our intervention through both the “Home Based Skills Development and Befrienders Programmes,” have helped the Beneficiaries manage the ailment of depression in a more significant manner.

How has the response to Project SMILE been so far?

It has been a very enriching journey for the volunteers who have visited, befriended and worked alongside these women, as they have seen so much strength and determination in them even in difficult times. The hope is the team at SMILE will not only impart their knowledge and skills to the Women, but also learn from them on how to cope and manage under distress, and still have a smile on them.

How are women assessed at Project SMILE?

We have Befrienders who conduct an assessment with women. Most have had experience working with human relations matters.

SMILE itself does not conduct counselling. We refer our women to our partner agencies who have the full spectrum of Casework and Counselling platforms to aid the women. Our Befrienders provide the listening ear, that plays an integral part in motivating and providing support to the women.    

We also have Empowerment Programmes that showcase to the women potential growth areas such as motivation, financial planning, parenting, communication, self-care, just to name a few.

Could you tell us what exactly the “Home Based Skills Development Programme,” is? 

"Home Based Skills Development Programme," allows women who do not have the relevant academic qualifications and face challenging family situations, endure disabilities and last but not the least experience dire circumstances, to learn a skill that they can then capitalise on from their homes as they cannot work externally.

Some items made under skills development and training

Our training eventually promotes them to self reliance in the form of self worth and sound financial standing. Training begins at Project Smile premises, and after the beneficiaries have attained the level of expertise, they are graduated to work from home.

Many continue to attend our "training sessions," as they benefit emotionally and socially from the camaraderie and support from one another and volunteers.  The beneficiaries whose ultimate goal is to reach out into the community as entrepreneurs are also roped in for some of our projects for our online and 'bazaar' sales.

The Beneficiaries are also motivated to attend these training sessions as they are rewarded under a "train and pay," scheme and not doled out welfare funds. Their self esteem and confidence increases in several folds because of this.

Something about the play "Mindless Whispers"...

Our advent in the area of understanding depression is through a play, allowing for the topic to be introduced through a medium most recognised. 

"Mindless Whispers" will be held in Singapore on 4th Aug (7:30 pm) at PGP Hall. In addition, a discussion on how depression can be “tackled,” will be conducted with professionals, which will give audience information about the illness.

Tickets are available at  S$100, S$50 and S$30. Tickets can be purchased online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mindless-whispers-tickets-35449843436. Alternatively, please email to [email protected]

Money raised from Mindless Whispers will go to Project Smile’s Home Based Skills Development Programme. 

Also READ: Depression in children: Signs and Solutions