Thames Water demonstrating their VR programmeThames Water is working to help employees gain a better understanding of mental health through their truly innovative training programme. In a world-first, Thames Water’s Mind Fit Programme uses virtual reality to put trainees in the position of someone struggling with their mental health. Users experience a day in the life of an individual with depression through a VR headset. It’s a hard-hitting but effective film.

The experience can help people empathise with colleagues who are struggling and it alerts them to the potential warning signs that someone is having a problem with their mental health. It invites participants to consider how they might have acted in similar situations in the past and then they can reflect on what they would do differently in the future.

1000 participants so far

The interest in the Mind Fit Programme at Thames Water has surpassed all expectations; almost 1000 employees have taken the course and there’s been a waiting list to take the training for two years. This is a great way to get people talking about mental health but, what’s more, is that lots of employees who participate in this training go on to train as mental health first aiders who can provide practical support for colleagues in the future. Thames Water know that there is more work to be done: the target for 2019/2020 is to have all people managers undertake the Mind Fit Programme, but so far they have made excellent progress.

One part of a wider strategy

The Mind Fit Programme is an important part of Thames Water’s overall strategy for tackling mental health stigma in the workplace. They want to emphasise the importance of prevention and their actions are guided around four principles:

  • Spotting the signs
  • Providing opportunities to talk
  • Offering a listening ear
  • Talking to professional support services early

The Mind Fit Programme and virtual reality experience was designed to support these principles and has helped to contribute to a cultural shift in the company in which people are much more open about their mental health.

Try out VR at your company

Thames Water has developed a brilliant, truly innovative programme but perhaps the best thing about the company is their willingness to share their progress. The company offers their virtual reality mental health films to anyone who wants to use it for free (you just need to provide the headsets!). Employers everywhere can learn from Thames Water and hopefully will be inspired to develop their own unique initiatives.