Mental health conditions pose as a global problem. In the United States alone, at least 7.2% of the population is suffering from a major depressive disorder. Anxiety disorder affects an estimated 19.1% of the population. The World Health Organization reports that at least 25% of the worldwide population is affected by some type of mental health disorder.
Virtual reality has been used as an alternative and complementary therapy for quite some time now. Emerging evidence shows that virtual reality can be an effective strategy for treating several types of mental health disorders in the general population.
How Virtual Reality Helps In The Treatment Of Mental Health Conditions
Virtual reality is used in different ways to help people overcome symptoms associated with certain mental health conditions. Different mental health disorders are also being treated through experimental programs that take advantage of virtual reality technology.
Let’s take a closer look at how virtual reality is currently being used in the treatment of various mental health concerns.
Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental illnesses that affect the general population. An estimated 40 million adults in the US are affected by anxiety disorders. This accounts for about 18.1% of the US population. Even though the prevalence of anxiety disorders is high, a mere 36.9% of patients are estimated to receive treatment.
Several companies have implemented virtual reality technologies to help patients suffering from anxiety disorders. Mimerse was one of the very first virtual reality systems to go live, focusing particularly on patients who experience symptoms of anxiety disorders. Mimerse worked closely with Samsung to produce a virtual reality world that would help these patients.
Mimerse is primarily a virtual pharmacy. Scientists, healthcare professionals, and clinicians are working closely with the developers of the platform to provide a more authentic experience for patients.
Several products have already been integrated into the Mimerse platform. This includes a relaxation experience that helps the patient experience a state of calmness and relaxation. A meditation program has also been developed and implemented into the Mimerse platform.
Another virtual reality platform, known as Psious, was developed with health professionals in mind. The tool is primarily aimed at mental health professionals who are setting up clinical trials. The platform is able to provide patients access to more than 50 different, virtually populated environments that have been specifically designed to assist in the treatment of common mental health illnesses.
The company was founded by Xavier Palomer, who states that he is striving to help millions experience an improvement in their mental health.
These are only two examples of platforms that use virtual reality to treat anxiety disorders. Many platforms give patients access to exotic locations that they can roam, all while sitting at home or at the office of mental health professionals. These virtual environments can help to manifest a calmness in the patient, which is a critical factor among people with anxiety.
Some virtual reality technologies are also focusing on helping patients overcome their phobias. This falls into the same category of anxiety disorders in many cases. There are some platforms designed specifically for phobias. Other platforms would rather focus on treating anxiety disorders in general, with the ability to also help the patient overcome phobias.
The Limbix platform is a good example of how virtual technology is used to treat phobias. The platform is used for the treatment of phobias and anxiety symptoms.
The platform is able to provide the patient access to a 360-degree video, with a virtual environment that they can explore. The Limbix platform is often used by mental health professionals in a controlled environment.
A program can be configured to expose the patient to the specific elements that they have a phobia for. This may include specific objects or people. It may also include specific scenarios, such as a social event or visiting a bar.
The use of such a platform allows the patient to face the fears that they have. The patient is able to face their phobia in a virtual environment, allowing the mental health professional to have more control over the situation.
The patient would then be exposed to their phobia during each session. The idea is that the response of the patient to the phobia will lessen with every exposure. Eventually, they will not have a fear of being exposed to that particular phobia.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is another relatively common mental health problem. According to one publication, up to 9.2% of the population in the United States will experience symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be triggered by a large number of things. The condition will generally develop following a traumatic experience that the patient had to go through. This may include some as significant as their experience during the war, or perhaps following an abusive relationship. Other causes include physical injuries, medical illnesses, mass conflict, and sexual assault.
Researchers are also working on techniques that would help post-traumatic stress patients experience a reduction in their symptoms through the use of virtual reality.
Currently, exposure therapy is considered an important option in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Virtual reality can be a helpful resource in providing patients access to exposure therapy.
The technique works by creating a virtual environment where the patient is exposed to an event similar to what triggered post-traumatic stress disorder. The patient will be provided the exposure therapy for a specific duration of time – and they will put on the virtual reality headset during each session with the therapist.
The idea is that the response to the traumatic event will be less fearful with every passing session. The patient will gradually start to experience less anxiety and stress in response to the virtual environment. The treatment is considered successful once the patient is able to put on the virtual reality headset and experience no fear or anxiety symptoms when exposed to the event that triggered post-traumatic stress disorder.
Current Limitations Faced
The major limitation that has been faced over the last two decades was the high cost of implementing virtual reality technologies as a treatment for mental health problems. For this reason, virtual reality is not yet considered a useful treatment option in many locations.
There has been a significant increase in the distribution of mobile virtual reality headsets in recent years, however. Technological advancements have been able to reduce the cost of these headsets too. Some mobile devices are also compatible with virtual reality technology, allowing them to be mounted into an appropriate headset.
With this in mind, it is becoming easier to provide mental health patients access to virtual reality programs as a way of helping them overcome the symptoms they experience. This opportunity is likely to be utilized in the near future, enabling more people to gain access to this form of treatment.
Virtual reality has shown promising results when used as a treatment for certain mental health conditions. Patients with post-traumatic stress disorder are able to experience a reduced anxious response to triggers. The use of virtual reality may also be useful for individuals with certain phobias and may act as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders too.