Thames Water uses technology to train mental health first aiders

Thames Water

Water services provider Thames Water has increased its support for mental wellbeing in the workplace, using technology as part of its training strategy.

Four years ago, the organisation increased its focus on the wellbeing of its employees, including the promotion of good mental health. This involved providing managers with awareness training and the training of mental health first aiders.

A key part of its strategy was the introduction of virtual reality headsets and programmes to help the mental health first aiders understand and spot the signs of stress and depression, and how best to support the individual.

One of the virtual reality programmes immerses the trainee in the persona of an employee experiencing stress and difficulties in their home life and then their time at work. The programme then shows the trainee how that employee was offered support and given information on how to sensitively talk to colleagues.

Gareth Mullen, head of safety, health, wellbeing and security at Thames Water, says: “Mental health first aiders then have the tools to be able to sit and listen to people, and be able to signpost them where to go next.”

Thames Water aims to train one in 10 of its 5,000 employees as a mental health first aider. It has currently trained 120, and has put around 360 managers through mental health awareness training.

A key measure of the strategy’s success has been an 84% reduction in workplace illness in the last five years, explains Mullen. “Four years ago in Thames Water, people were not open, things like mental health was not on the agenda, people weren’t prepared to expose themselves in that way,” he says. “The culture now within the business allows us to do that; people now are fully prepared to come forward and share their experiences to say ‘yes, we’ve gone through this, the business is prepared to help and support you’.”

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