VRET: Virtual Reality Opens New Path to Mental Health

Mental illness awareness is been advocated for globally as a crucial problem in the health ecosystem. Even the giant tech players have been seeking for avenues to leverage their massive platform to combat the menace of mental illness on a large scale. Facebook for instance had come up with an AI powered suicide prevention tool integrated with Live and Messenger and it has been said to effectively detect and analyse key words that alerts on suspected suicide attempts.

Also, Apple had gone ahead to include “Breathe”, a meditation app to its Apple Watch functions, seeking to help its users who are victims of mental health, (most especially in the United State) ease off from stress and depression. Recently, Limbix, a unique start up in Palo Alto California is leveraging Virtual Reality Technology to combat mental illness globally, giving the fight against the global mental health problem a new head starts. However, there is an history to the tech battle against the menace of mental illness.

Telemedicine, AI and Mental Health

Ginger.io provided 24/7 support, guidance, text and video therapy, and medication support by a personalized care team. Meanwhile in China, Jiandanxinli has been connecting top 1% Chinese-speaking therapists (300+) to people with mental health challenges as well as their care takers (100000+) and have been organising various offline events to promote mental health and well-being. Facebook even went ahead to launch Woebot, Messenger therapist chatbot, proved to significantly reduced symptoms of depression in 2 weeks. Also, some African mental NGOs and Mental health Centres such as Mentally Aware, Pinnacle Medical Centre and Sound Mind Africa have recently been rolling out 24/7 helplines for victims of mental illnesses, while educating and advocating for mindfulness practice.

Mental Health Ed-tech and Mindfulness

In 2011, Lantern had started helping people in the United State deal with anxiety, eating disorders and depression via online coaching and education. As at 2016, early technological interventions on the issues of mental health were aimed at helping the victims of mental health illness understand and practice mindfulness. By 2018, there were already 22% of companies in the United States investing in mindfulness education and training, including Google, Facebook, Intel and Target. One very prominent start-up on the battle pitch against global mental illness in 2017 was Calm.

Calm produced mindfulness meditation products, which are accessible to users through the company’s website, a book, and its primary product, a mindfulness meditation app. However, at a point in time, understanding, educating and calming down might not be enough. Getting down to other areas in the problem-solving gap such as inventing therapeutic procedural enhancement is pertinent. Also, seeking alternative means of therapy as against opioid would go a long way to further dealing with the issue.

VR and Mental Health

Virtual Reality health

It is comforting to know that recent research globally by psychiatrist and psychologist show that VR is proving to be promising in bringing innovative therapeutic solutions to mental health. It is good to know that innovative solutions can come to mental health care again. Swaying away from the usual dot.com tech that has already played a preliminary role of supporting mental health advocacy and education globally might be necessary to solve the problem more holistically.  Meanwhile integrating the previous tools that has waged the war against mental health so far with the new might be the best approach against mental illness.

Whatever way, it is high time problem solvers begin to take a huge dive by employing deep tech in combating the mental health issue. The popular deep technologies of the future have been said to include: Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Virtual Reality and Robotics, hence academic research had been ongoing as regards how they can be employed to solve the global mental health issues today. Recently, interesting and ground-breaking frontiers have been made by Academicians, Researchers, and start-ups in the United State in the purposeful application of Virtual Reality amongst others in solving mental health disorders. It’s has been described as a disruptive move against the gaming and entertainment defacto application of VR so far.

Meanwhile, a social enterprise in Nigeria, Vmedkit is taking giant strides to solving this problem in Africa. Last year, the Nigerian Ministry of Health gave an estimate that over 40 million Nigerians are believed to be suffering from mental disorders. This is a very significant number, considering that Nigeria has an estimated population of 200 million. Unfortunately, despite the advocacy, education and healthcare, the attention given to mental health disorder in Nigeria is still below per. Vmedkit is hoping to democratize access to mental healthcare leveraging virtual reality technology. Their solution called VRET (Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy) could be the catalyst to a new head start.

A more immersive and easily accessible therapeutic experience for mental patients could become an alternative to opioid. Also, in line with precision medicine, their platform could guarantee a customised therapeutic enhancement experiential procedure for victims and new survivors of mental health illnesses. VR is truly opening a path solving the mental health problem globally and this would mean a lot of hope for the future of our families, our nation and our world.

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