Escape Room About Depression In Singapore
Here’s a fun fact about me, I love escape rooms. Like really love them. I’ve pretty much been to all that Singapore currently has to offer.
Needless to say, when I chanced upon Campus PSY’s “Jessica – Have You Met Her?”, I was intrigued.
But as I read the events page on Facebook carefully, I quickly realised this was no run-of-the-mill escape room.
For one, it was completely free-of-charge and only limited spaces were available in the two-day only event.
More importantly, it promised to raise awareness about mental health issues in Singapore.
I was instantly sold. For the escape room part, that is.
I quickly jio-ed a good friend of mine to tag along for the ride and we booked an afternoon slot for 9 Jan.
We were surprised to find that 90% of the slots had already been filled by then. The hype was real.
D-Day is here
When we arrived at The Red Box on D-day, we were greeted by a plethora of NGOs promoting and raising awareness for mental health.
Plastered upon various display boards were posters describing the different kinds of mental illnesses prevalent in Singapore.
Soon it was our turn, and we were told to head to the third floor to proceed.
In the lift, I exchanged knowing glances with my friend as we could barely contain our level of excitement.
We were then given a short briefing on the backstory of Jessica and our characters.
As classmates of Jessica – who had gone missing – we were instructed to visit her room to figure out where she was.
The Great Escape
A dimly lit office space divided by long pieces of black cloth greeted us at the end of a long corridor — Jessica’s room.
We spied a bed buried under a mound of plushies, an acoustic guitar and a messy study desk.
Typical for a teenage girl’s room — other than a massive countdown screen with 15 minutes left on the clock.
“Your time starts now,” proclaimed the volunteer, handing us a few cards riddled with, riddles. Before we could ask any questions, the countdown had begun.
We glanced at our riddle cards to begin our “escape”. They all read the same thing,
In the darkest night
Look to the light that shines so bright
In your hand
A friend to carve a path through the dark
Perhaps our nerves got to us, as we quickly abandoned figuring out what the impossible rhyme meant.
Instead, we spent a solid 10 minutes fumbling around the room searching for other clues.
We even trawled through Jessica’s laptop which had several notes hinting at her depression, but to no avail.
The only thing out of the ordinary was a framed visual perched on the desk on how to translate Morse code. This was kinda odd for a teenage girl to have, but as we soon found out, was essential to the story.
Due to our lack of progress, one of the volunteers hinted that we should look for the item described in the riddle.
“A torchlight!”, one of the participants exclaimed. Shining so bright in your hand. It all made sense now. D’oh.
Seizing the pocket torch on top of the shelves, we found a tiny thumbdrive hidden within after unscrewing it.
We then plugged the device into Jessica’s laptop faster than you can say “aha!”
You recall the Morse code I mentioned earlier?
Turns out, the thumbdrive contained a collection of several audio beeps. The long and short of it was, we had to break the code.
After way too many replays of the audio, we figured out the two words it said: FATIGUE SADNESS.
On the very same Morse Code guide, there were several words associated with depression, scrawled under a few numbers.
The two numbers listed under the words translated were 276 and 89.
At this point, the volunteer informed us to make use of both rooms in order to escape. Wait, what?
There was apparently another room we missed altogether, covered by the aforementioned dark cloth.
Inside Jessica’s mind
With five minutes to spare, we hastily entered the second room which brought us “inside Jessica’s mind”.
The “room”, as we shall refer to it, was messy to say the least.
Eerie scribbles covered the surfaces of each wall and a gazillion red strings connected them to a locked chest in the centre of the room.
Think, James Bond villain laser room but with red string instead. Massive props to the team here, as the red strings were intended to depict Jessica’s mental state.
We clumsily navigated our way through the labyrinth of strings, towards the locked chest.
As we’d found five numbers in the previous room, it was pretty clear they were the combination codes to release the lock. I’m proud to report that we unlocked it only after three tries.
Inside the chest were pages of Jessica’s diary depicting her spiral into depression.
Here’s a summary of what was written:
Page 1: Jessica’s scholarship application had failed
Page 2: Jessica mistook Bryan’s – her senior – act of kindness as flirtation
Page 2: A forlorn tale of unrequited love involving her senior, Bryan
Page 3: Jessica’s best friend fails to understand her situation
But as we read the pages out loud – because that seemed like an appropriate thing to do at the time – the volunteer informed us that our time was up and we had failed to escape.
Guess we were trapped inside Jessica’s mind forever.
Failure is the mother of success
Like any other escape room, we were faced with the shame of having the remainder of the puzzles being explained to us.
The vital clue we missed was the UV light which was packed within the chest.
Shining the UV light on her scholarship application and a torn picture of her senior Bryan in the previous room would have given us the postal code to where Jessica was hiding.
In our defense, I felt that there were barely any hints to point out our next course of action. Also, a 15-min session was way too short to figure out the complex clues.
Face your fears
Despite our failure to figure out the postal code, we were ushered to a different room where we finally got to meet Jessica face-to-face.
This probably already sounds creepy to you readers. But trust me, it was just as chilling in real life.
We entered her dorm and found a lone girl huddled up under her blanket, staring into the distance.
This room was completely pitch black and littered with trash and half-eaten food.
A chill ran down our spines as the foreboding atmosphere hung heavily in the air.
Apprehensively, we settled on chairs placed directly in front of Jessica, and were told to ask any questions we wanted.
Before I proceed, can you imagine six strangers to sitting in front of a girl, trying to have a conversation in complete darkness?
It’s exactly as awkward as you would think.
Thankfully, the moderator gently guided us on what to say to get Jessica to open up.
From there, we took turns asking Jessica about her life story. She quickly opened up to us and defeated depression, hooray — was what we hoped would happen.
In reality, hardly anyone spoke up and I’m pretty sure we sat in complete silence for longer than we actually spoke.
Before we made much progress, the moderator informed us that our time was up and ushered us to the reflection room.
Afterwards, my friend told me that the awkward feelings of discomfort we faced, were exactly what people suffering from depression experience, before opening up to others.
50% success rate
In the reflection room, we were given a briefing to conclude our experience at the event.
We were told that we had two missions assigned when we started:
1. To find Jessica and her whereabouts
2. To speak to her and get her to open up
What followed was a pre-recorded audio message of ‘Jessica’ congratulating us for getting her to open up and finding out what caused her to spiral into depression.
Most of us agreed that the final segment would’ve been much more effective if we had actually completed the escape room.
Curious, I inquired about the success rate of this escape room and found that only 50% of participants managed to escape the room while no one had successfully gotten Jessica to open up.
Perhaps Campus PSY had been too optimistic about Singaporeans’ abilities to interact tactfully with people afflicted with depression.
You’ll never walk alone
After the meaningful debrief, we were brought back to the main lobby and given a choice.
Either anonymously write about a difficult time we faced in life, or read a statement written by a prior participant.
We decided to try our hands at both. I’ll admit that I was extremely moved by the personal anecdotes shared by previous participants.
Some of them detailed their loneliness and despair, in their struggle against depression and other mental disorders.
Others professed hope for a better tomorrow, and that they were more aware of mental health issues faced by Singaporeans.
Volunteers invited us to take home some of the inspirational postcards, since we were now survivors of this escape room.
I left The Red Box with five different stories of other Singaporeans recounting the struggles they faced.
Kudos to Campus PSY
The premise of ‘Jessica: Have You Met Her?’ initially left me intrigued by the identity of this mysterious girl.
I’d also be lying if this wasn’t one of the reasons why I was so keen on trying just another “fun” escape room activity.
Now, I’m glad to admit that I was wrong.
While the execution had several shortcomings – which disappointed the escape room enthusiast in me – the encounter with Jessica was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
That said, kudos to Campus PSY for trying to spark a national conversation with Singaporeans about a topic that’s so hard to broach in real life.
The accessible but brilliant concept of an escape room about depression, surely left many of us with a greater understanding of mental illness.
Have you met Jessica?
As we left The Red Box, I kept asking myself if depression could easily affect anyone, even those close to our hearts.
The answer came easily this time — a resounding “Yes”.
We really shouldn’t underestimate the difference we can make in their lives, if only we made a concerted effort to reach out to our friends like Jessica.
So to the rest of the readers who joined me on this journey, I leave you with just one question — have you truly met all the Jessicas in your lives?
We certainly hope the event makes a return sometime soon. If any of you from Campus PSY are reading this, pretty please?
Until then, if you find yourself experiencing any symptoms of mental illness or know someone that does, please don’t hesitate to contact the following:
Institute of Mental Health (IMH)
Tel: 6389 2222 (24h)
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
Tel: 1800 221 4444 (24h)
Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
Tel: 1800 283 7019 (Weekdays: 9am – 1pm, 2pm – 6pm)
Chat – Mental Healthcare Professionals
Tel: 6493 6500/01