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Recent studies show that lack of empathetic treatment for patients with mental health challenges extends recovery times, whilst lack of empathy and isolation have also been linked to shortened life expectancy in this group. At the same time, compassion fatigue is common among care staff, which in turn increases staff turnover. Given the scale of the current mental health crisis, the increasing demands on carers, and the difficulty of providing effective training, there is a critical need to innovate in this area.
Following requests from educators, healthcare and social care institutions, the award-winning creative studio ANAGRAM are attempting to address these challenges. In 2021 they started to develop Inside Mental Health as a standalone, immersive learning resource to enhance learning and training about mental health.
The aim of ANAGRAM’s project was to use the immersive potential of VR technology to provide insight into the experience of people with mental health problems and provide a physical toolkit that can be delivered to colleges, hospitals and care homes.
Goliath: Playing with Reality is a 25-minute award-winning VR experience created by ANAGRAM and narrated by Tilda Swinton, which depicts the true story of a man experiencing psychosis. The story guides you through the many realities of Goliath, a man who spent years isolated in psychiatric institutions but finds connection in multiplayer games. The prototype enables users, individually and simultaneously, to view Goliath's story followed by a group reflective learning session.
As users undertake the experience, their heart rate is monitored with increases to heart rate matched against each chapter so users can understand how they are physically and emotionally engaged with the experience. Learners, and their groups, use this data to further their discussions on how they feel about the experience, what they have learned about themselves, and then reflect as a group on what they will do to implement this with their interactions with patients.
Inside Mental Health is a new way of delivering learning, building on evidence which shows that immersive experiences can deliver more impactful learning outcomes than traditional learning methods. ANAGRAM are using immersive learning alongside training materials to create guided group experiences to give medical staff—in all roles—a package that is aimed at further developing empathy for patients with mental health conditions, in this case schizophrenia and psychosis.
92% of students said they felt more empathy and understanding of the experience of psychosis
ANAGRAM's Inside Mental Health has already been used to support learning for nurses at the School of Health and Social Wellbeing at the University of the West of England (UWE). The team will further develop the experience for a broad range of health care professionals working alongside Lucy Watkins, Mental Health Nurse and Portfolio Lead for Simulation and Digital Technology in UWE, and Dr. Chris Kowalski, Consultant Psychiatrist and Simulation Lead at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
The next phase of the project will see ANAGRAM launch Impulse in early 2024, a mixed reality experience looking at Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They will again be seeking input from the lived experience community and will use this feedback to determine how they develop the content as part of the Inside Mental Health suite of learning experiences. This will help build empathy and reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues at a time when more people need support with their mental health than ever before.