Western State Hospital (WSH), the largest in-patient psychiatric facility west of the Mississippi, recently turned to CM&D and the power of Virtual Reality (VR) storytelling to help build empathy and understanding of mental illness within new employees.
CM&D is a virtual reality production studio on Blend’s immersive marketplace, Blend Market.
With over 3,500 staff members and 800 patients, Western State Hospital is one of the largest state-run mental health facilities in America. Preparing new employees to work in a highly sensitive and sometimes dangerous environment can be quite a challenge. WSH turned to the power of 360 video to give new team members the opportunity to ‘step inside’ the life of a mental health patient. The final VR-powered training experience became the cornerstone of the hospital’s recently overhauled new employee training program.
On the first day of training, new employees get introduced to Lena, a single mother living with schizophrenia. Through VR, trainees go with Lena on her journey through the legal system and eventual admittance to WSH.
“It’s been phenomenal. It’s changed peoples’ demeanour and the way they handle things. They handle us with more care,” stated a patient from WSH (Not being named for privacy protection).
This is the first known use of VR-storytelling (powered by 360 video) to train hospital staff on the struggles of mental illness. And although the training program has only been in use for a few months, it has already led to improved conditions within the hospital.
"I’ve heard people say they hear voices, but I’ve never seen something make it so real. I think this will help me when I’m talking to (patients) and they’re not responding,” shared Terry S., Registered Nurse, Western State Hospital.
Wes Evans, Creative Director at CM&D comments: “Telling a story about the struggles of mental illness can work in any medium, but telling it in VR allowed us to do something that no other format can do. It lets the viewer experience the symptoms and confusion that, a woman with severe schizophrenia, deals with. This gives hospital employees the opportunity to grow as individuals and better help patients return home to their loved ones”.