In recent years the rise of new technology has been portrayed as having a detrimental impact on our physical and mental health, as we become more attached to our screens, less active and assess out own self-worth based on the number of followers we have, or the number of likes to our social media posts. However, in some areas advances in technology are being used to create solutions to some debilitating health conditions.
One of these technologies is virtual reality. Whilst predominantly seen as a gaming aid, virtual reality headsets are now being trialled as a treatment for some mental health conditions.
A team of academics from the University of Oxford developed an application for a virtual reality headset to target a phobia of heights, and the results of the initial trial of 100 patients (each of whom had a clinically diagnosed phobia of heights which they had held for around 30 years) proved to be beneficial for a significant number of the participants.
The trial involved approximately half of patients using the new technology, and half not (being the control group). Those using the new technology had to make their way to the top of a ten-storey shopping centre and complete challenges on the way at every floor to challenge their fear of heights. Each patient took part in five or six thirty-minute sessions, and at the end of the two-week trial, 70% of the treated patients were determined to no longer have a clinical phobia of heights.
The trial shows the potential for virtual reality and immersive technology to become part of mainstream treatment options, and we may be able to apply this concept to other mental health conditions. There is significant time and cost involved in setting up the application and the treatment programme. However, once established, virtual reality can be used without the supervision of a health professional, and the trial claims to show that just three hours of treatment had a significant impact on a lifelong disorder.
Further trials within the NHS are now being planned.
17th October 2018