A mental health virtual reality training course has helped Thames Water reduce work-related illness absence by more than 75% in the last five years.
Karl Simons, chief health, safety and security officer, said the company’s ground-breaking technology has been “a revelation” in combating stress-related sickness. He is now campaigning for all responsible businesses across the country to manage mental health in a positive and proactive way, and encourage open conversations about how people are really feeling at work.
On the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week (May 14-18), run by the Mental Health Foundation, Karl said: “Identifying and tackling mental health problems early can stop issues escalating and improve the chances of recovery. Workplaces, not only the NHS, should have a part to play in supporting this movement.
“Having a mental health awareness campaign for employees not only helps to support mental health at work but can also benefit our family and friends at home. We’ve evolved to have more and better conversations about how we are feeling, not just physically but also mentally, which has been a real breakthrough.”
Thames Water has recently showcased its mental health virtual reality educational programme to many of the country’s major safety-critical employers, including the British Army, water companies and at the National Health and Safety Executives conference. It has offered the footage, where you become the person suffering the ill-effects of negative mental health, to all companies for free.
Research has shown that 16 million people – a quarter of the population – experience a mental health problem each year, according to the MHF. Poor mental health costs employers between £33bn and £42bn a year, with an annual cost to the UK economy of between £74bn and £99bn.
Thames Water was featured as a case study in the UK Government’s independent review of mental health and employers by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, called ‘Thriving at Work’ and published last November. The company has more than 200 mental health first aiders across the business and offers free annual personal and confidential medical assessments for all employees.
Lord Stevenson said: “The approach being taken by Thames Water using virtual reality to improve mental health in the workplace is one of the most impressive and practical approaches that I came across when Paul Farmer and I were producing our report for the Prime Minister.”
Thames Water is Britain’s biggest water company, serving 15 million customers across London and the Thames Valley.