Plasters Don't Change the World, People Do

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In 2015, SOS launched its first digital awareness campaign. The stage was set for World Suicide Prevention Day and on 10 September that year, we cast our doubts to the wind and boldly pushed forth.

Weeks of brainstorming, fine tuning, rejections, approvals, and coordinating had come down to a black plaster and an unassuming #howru. Would the campaign succeed? Would anyone even notice?   

Would anyone care that we were trying to change the world with a plaster?

Turns out, people did care. For the first time, we made Singapore sit up on a topic that sorely needed attention and we started countless conversations.

As a result, we created an icon that was instantly adopted as the symbol of suicide prevention in Singapore.

The black plaster gave shape to the proverbial elephant in the room. Emotional pain is what can lead to suicide and the black plaster helped people see that emotional pain needs to be addressed just as much as physical pain, even if it can’t be seen.      

The hashtag #howru was created to help people realise that reaching out to someone who may be in need of support starts with asking “how are you?”

As simple as it might seem, it is all too often the case that we stay silent. We don’t dare ask the question even though we feel compelled to. 

Why do we stay silent even though we care?

Maybe it’s a restricting sort of politeness, a desire not to bother someone else. Maybe it’s the need to build walls around ourselves to keep others out, but at the same time invariably keeping ourselves out of the lives we care about. Or maybe it’s a fear of being vulnerable – operating in an increasingly disconnected world where compassion often gets camouflaged and concern is associated with the feeling of ‘paiseh’ or ‘kaypoh.’

But #howru was never designed to be intrusive. More than just a question, #howru is also a statement. A statement saying implicitly but loudly ‘I care’ and ‘you matter’ and ‘I’m here when you need me.

The Hawaiians have something they say often to each other and that word is aloha. Many people think aloha is simply an interchangeable greeting – both hello and goodbye. While it is commonly used as such, aloha refers to so much more than just a salutation. It represents various feelings and notions – love, gratitude, kindness, compassion, goodness; it conveys a profound and complex sentiment beyond definition.

We wanted #howru to be just as powerful.


The response to the black plaster campaign was overwhelming and it was something that we truly didn’t expect. But as much as we had supporters, naysayers were unavoidable. ‘It’s just marketing hype’, they chimed in, ‘it doesn’t really change anything.

To this, we say: well, maybe.

Because you can’t prevent suicides by just asking someone ‘how are you?’ It’s going to take more than that. But asking someone “how are you?” is a first step. It’s a crucial first step to let those in crisis know that they aren’t alone, that there are people around them ready to hear them, and see them, and be there for them in their darkest hour. It’s a first step we’re all more than capable of taking.  

Part of #howru was to remind people that we are capable of reaching out to others, and we needn’t be afraid to do so. We can offer love and kindness and compassion, and it can make all the difference to someone in need of support – we can make that difference. After all, plasters don’t change the world, people do.