Innovating Virtual Reality for the Mental Health Space

by Karla Cloete

The healthcare sector has been one of the fastest-growing industries in the last 5 years, according to a report by Immersive Economy in 2022. 

The UK government has recently implemented the Mindset XR programme for digital mental health, with a £20m investment backing, it seems the world of immersive therapy might be one worth pausing to learn about. 

A 2017 review of 285 VR studies showed that this technology had serious potential to treat a variety of mental health challenges, with a big caveat about how VR is defined and the specific implementation strategies needed to be effective. 

Tend Mental Health

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Tend’s mission is to extend the benefits of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to the 300 million people worldwide who are struggling with depression. MBCT was designed as a training program to decrease the risk of relapse for those dealing with recurrent depressive episodes through cognitive behavioural skills training in a mindfulness-based model. This treatment is evidence-based and has been shown to effectively combat anxiety, depression, stress and burnout. 

By using VR technology like the Meta Quest 2 VR headsets, this interactive, immersive programme can be delivered anywhere at any time, with their course showing high retention and completion rates. 

Oxford VR 

Oxford VR is partnered with gameChange, an NHS-funded project which aims to assist those dealing with psychosis to cope with everyday scenarios which they find anxiety-inducing through virtual simulations. Their developers are recruited from the gaming industry and combined with clinically validated treatments. 

This program uses the latest VR tech to deliver evidence-based automated treatment protocols aimed at improving general wellness by offering a chance to gradually practise new modes of thinking and try new behaviours within the safety of a digital space. 

Each program is supported with integrated virtual coaching. A 2018 randomised control trial found that participants in the VR group had a 68% reduction in their fear of heights. 

Mynd Immersive

It’s no secret that the ageing population is dramatically increasing and that the healthcare sector is already struggling to keep up with this boom. Mynd Immersive aims to treat age-related health challenges like dementia and Alzheimer’s, but also the depression and isolation faced by so many in the elderly community. Their program showed an 88% decrease in feelings of isolation, 89% increase in socialising and 91% of users who tried it said they would recommend it to others. 

Their use of Digital Therapeutics (DTx) means suitable interventions can be personalised, quickly scaled up and delivered quickly to promote quality of life while decreasing long-term costs. 

The VR tech they use can be applied to veterans, in hospice and palliative care as well as those in post-acute and home care.

The world of VR is fun and fascinating and may have some amazing applications in the mental health space. We hope to see these innovators continue their amazing work and for this tech to become accessible for those who truly need it.

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