Home Health Virtual Reality: Can It Actually Improve Mental Health

Virtual Reality: Can It Actually Improve Mental Health

by Lois Earles
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According to a study by the World Health Organization, one in four people is affected by neurological or mental disorders at some point in their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic only helped escalate the already looming mental health crisis worldwide. The numbers are quite shocking. Research conducted by the CDC states that 31% percent of Americans reported depression and anxiety during the pandemic, while 11% have considered suicide. Even before the pandemic, there was a shortage of mental health clinicians.

However, healthcare organizations face challenging decisions like how to best utilize and scale behavioral health care to an increasingly isolated population, with very little time to waste. Because of this, doctors are considering an unlikely option – virtual reality (VR). In the past, experts were concerned that virtual reality would cause damage to our brains. Most of us think of gaming tech when we hear the term ‘virtual reality.’

For the past few decades, however, scientists have been uncovering various health benefits of VR for all kinds of ailments, ranging from PTSP to anxiety. What’s more, over 5,000 studies show that VR can help ease pain, steady nerves and boost overall mental health, and that’s not even the best part – you can administer it at home without the help of a trained clinician.

The Link Between VR and PTSD

In the U.S., around 7.7 million people are affected by PTSD, and one in three of those who experience trauma will have PTSD. Although VR has been used as a part of post-traumatic stress disorder treatment since the 1990s, new programs include a wider range of conditions. This is how virtual reality actually works – it creates a sense of a psychological presence if you will.

When we speak of this presence, the technology possesses a unique ability to convey this state of simply ‘being present’ wherever that is. Wherever depends on the type of mental illness. Interestingly, VR can even make people feel and think like a completely different person.

Exposure therapy is the most effective form of treatment rather than medication or psychotherapy. The good news is that VR is a particularly successful form of that very same therapy. The highly immersive and extremely sensory nature of VR aids PTSP patients’ recovery. The virtual environment it creates means it isn’t necessary for people to recreate the memory of their trauma – it is done for them.

A Bright Future

Until recently, VR tech has been rather pricey, unwieldy, and even unreliable for doctors to prescribe it. Now, all that has changed. Keeping in mind the on-going pandemic and its effects on mental health, the timing seems about right.

For the past five years, large companies like Facebook, HP, and Google have been investing a fortune in developing and further expanding the virtual reality industry. Subsequently, low-cost, high-quality, and portable VR equipment has been made available to the masses. So, there’s a strong possibility that VR might replace conventional mental health treatment for certain patients in the future.

Like many other aspects of technology, VR has a lot of potentials, and it’s a welcome form of treatment. Certain studies have already revealed how VR can treat PTSD, help ease phobias, and psychotic disorders to experience less anxiety and paranoia in public, and even minimize social anxiety. Up until recently, cost and technology limitations hindered the acceptance of VR as a treatment.

Nowadays, equipment like standalone and mobile VR headsets that are both good-quality and affordable have been available. Keeping this in mind, there is a good opportunity to use virtual reality and localize mental health treatment, which would allow more people to benefit from it. Health treatment could be made more accessible to those who lack both time and money to see a mental health care professional using VR.

Conclusion

To conclude, VR might not replace conventional diagnostic techniques right away. Still, it will surely take on a more important role in the diagnosis and treatment of brain and mental health disorders. Like with any form of technology, it will likely be vilified by certain individuals, while others will hold it in high regard. We can speculate all we want, but one thing is for sure – VR for the brain isn’t going anywhere. You can always keep yourself informed on the newest form of available VR treatments while using a VPN to browse the web safely, of course.

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