With Mental Health Awareness Month closing out in October, the importance of continuity in the conversation around mental well-being remains imperative. Asia, in particular, suffers deeply in this regard. Exacerbated by deeply-rooted stigmas, many Asian cultures continue to associate mental health issues with shame, hindering individuals from seeking help or discussing their challenges openly. Moreover, a shortage of resources, including mental health services, facilities, and professionals further compounds the problem, making it difficult for people to access the support they need.
That's where aspects such as greater awareness, exposure and education become key to unlocking a sense of freedom to exist, take up space and have their voices heard for those battling mental health challenges.
Creative innovation agency RGA decided to shine a light on this issue, with their world-first generative AI exhibition to show what it's truly like living with mental health disorders. In collaboration with the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH), the exhibition (which closes today) was created by eight Singaporeans who live with various mental health conditions—including schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and more—and showcases eight powerful art pieces generated using prompted truths from the people themselves.
Titled "Prompting Feelings", the idea was founded after RGA & the SAMH identified that one of the applications of Generative AI that had been lacking in the public arena was the visualisation and representation of the complex and often-misunderstood thoughts of those who live with mental health conditions.
“Much has been said and shown regarding the output of Generative AI For this project, we focused on the outcome instead. That technology can be an enabler for the artist in everyone—even those who live with mental health disorders, to express their innermost feelings as art. For most of us, it is hard to picture what it’s like to be in their shoes. With this exhibition, we hope to shed more light on that and in turn, generate empathy and improve mental health literacy,” said Ed Cheong, executive creative director for RGA Singapore, in a press release.
Describing the process for putting together the exhbition, the team from RGA and SAMH shared via a press release that they first spent time with each of the eight participants in closed-door interviews to better understand their struggles, experiences, hopes and dreams. These conversations then led to the prompted feelings that accurately depict each artist’s unique story. By using a trained model of Stable Diffusion, the team was also then able to create specific parameters for the AI applications without infringing on any existing copyrights. The final artworks also reflected each participant’s preferred style of art.
“The therapeutic power of creative mediums lies not in their ability to increase productivity, but in the ways in which individuals can engage with and derive value from the new medium. Generative AI expands our visual vocabulary for feelings and experiences that may elude verbal expression. The artworks it generates also help viewers to experience multiple feelings and thoughts at one go, which may mirror our human experiences of confusion, grief, shock and being overwhelmed,” shared Serene Goh, team lead for Outreach, Creative Services, Singapore Association for Mental Health, in a press release.
In accordance with recent statistics by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the problems arising from poor mental health are the second largest contributor to years lost because of disability. According to ADB, across Asia, a growing percentage of the adult population are experiencing a diagnosable mental illness in any given year from 4% (Singapore) to 20% (Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, and Australia).
In the State of Wellbeing report by lululemon covered in September, more than 64% of people in the APAC region placed wellbeing as their top priority, yet 90% reported themselves as being unable to achieve their desired state. One in three respondents reported their wellbeing currently at its lowest point ever and the same number felt they do not have time to think about it. In Hong Kong, employees missed an average of eight workdays annually due to low wellbeing. Whilst 68% of employees believed their employers are responsible for their wellbeing, more than half feel that employers are not doing enough.