How DDB is helping Singaporeans keep up their mental health during the pandemic

Concerned about the mental health impact on those working from home, Tribal DDB created a website to provide resources and help

With the coronavirus affecting mental, as well as the physical health, of the world‘s population, DDB created an innovative campaign to keep Singaporeans‘ spirits up during lockdown.

As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on, health experts have warned that the effects of lockdown has manifested in raised anxiety and stress levels for those impacted.

Since the National Care Hotline was set up in Singapore in April, the start of Singapore's circuit breaker lockdown, more than 23,000 calls have been received from people seeking help because of Covid-19. They can speak to more than 800 counsellors, psychiatrists, social workers and public officers who are manning the hotline for 24 hours.

To keep the conversation around mental wellness and resilience top of mind while Singapore‘s workforce remained indoors during the circuit breaker, Tribal DDB launched the ‘I am a Community Circuit Breaker’ website as a one-stop platform to keep Singaporeans informed and entertained during lockdown.

The project was created in collaboration with the National University Health System, a group of Singaporean medical institutions.

“On the third day of the circuit breaker period, we launched, a site that was filled with informative nuggets on things like where to get groceries, what to do with your kids, and even where to go to find jobs,” Joshua Lee, managing director at DDB, tells The Drum.

“One key feature we included was polls that touched on life during the circuit breaker period and how people were feeling on a daily basis. It gave the team insight into how people here were coping with staying indoors. At the same time, we kept a close eye on news at home and global events to see how we could craft relevant content for our growing iamaccb community (in the first week alone, we saw approximately 480k visitors).”

Drawing insights from its daily mood polls, the team realised that people were increasingly antsy – and plain bored – from being cooped-up, with many feeling detached from reality. Anxiety and stress from working at home were also building up as more people started to worry about their job security and the boundary between their work and personal lives.

So, together with professor John Wong and his team at the National University Health System Mind Science Centre (NUHS MSC), Tribal crafted two surveys on Workplace Resilience and Mental Health Resilience.

Tribal used to pose unintrusive, colloquial clinical questions to users – echoing the website’s tongue-in-cheek tone but gaining important data at the same time. The site not only hosted resources, but also offered Singaporeans access to helplines and messages of encouragement. Over 3,250 respondents took part in both surveys during May and June.

The first survey saw 114 frontliners and 1,074 employees working from home saying that working from home could be equally or more stressful than working on the frontlines as 61% of those working from home reported feeling stressed out while working, compared with 53% of frontline workers.

51% of those working from home reported feeling stressed out during their off-work hours at home, compared with 32% of frontliners.

The second survey, which polled students, working and non-working adults and retirees, found that the older the respondents were, the more likely they were to perceive themselves as being mentally resilient.

Older respondents aged 45 and above said that they were able to handle unpleasant emotions such as sadness, fear and anger (50%) relative to younger respondents (41%).

Younger respondents, on the other hand, were more likely to report having anxious thoughts and preoccupations as 50% said that they frequently worry that something bad is going to happen to them or their loved ones, compared with 38% of older respondents.

“NUHS MSC developed questions for both surveys while a team of writers and art directors from Tribal came up with the design and language for the surveys. The surveys were relatable and had a localised tone that was in line with the website’s branding. The graphics were also designed to be fun and colourful to pique interest and make sure that respondents were engaged and not fatigued as they went through the survey,” says Lee.

“The Mental Health Resilience survey was targeted at the general population including students, working or non-working adults, and retirees. It delved into emotional regulation, control, and spirituality. It aimed to make Singaporeans aware of their level of resilience and motivated them to seek help, where necessary. It also probed respondents to think about how they were coping with Covid-19 – did they feel victimised, blamed others for their troubles, or were able to pick themselves up quickly and move on?”

He continues: “The Workplace Resilience survey asked respondents how they dealt with stress from work and consumed information about the pandemic. It was meant for those who work on the frontline and in essential services, as well as those who work from home. Both surveys included the National Care hotline and MSC’s resource link for those who needed to seek help for their mental health.”

To do its part to address mental health issues exacerbated by working from home during the circuit breaker, Tribal adopted telecommuting and split team arrangements. On top of that, team leaders hold regular weekly check-ins with their colleagues to ensure that they are coping well.

The agency gradually opened up the office and modified some spaces by removing old cupboards and closed off pantry areas to create ‘pods‘ to allow employees to make video calls in private.

“We are also making arrangements for lunch deliveries to the office to reduce non-essential travelling. To maintain morale and team bonding, virtual bonding sessions were also conducted to lift spirits. From virtual yoga to virtual lunches, we tried to keep work fun even if we could only interact through our laptop screens!” says Lee.

“On NUHS‘ end, the survey findings provided focus areas for NUHS resilience programmes spanning across three age groups namely seniors, working adults, and youths. They are planning to start the campus mental health with Year 2 and 3 medical students in Q3 this year.”

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