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Virtual Reality, Could it be the Next Step in Fighting Depression?

Depression is a mental health issue that continues to affect millions of children, adults and seniors each year in our country.  As recently as 2014, at least 6.6% of adults experienced a period of major depression, which could potentially mean that the overall number of unreported cases is even higher. One of the more significant aspects of depression is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, which states that an individual generally suffers from depression for a period of two weeks or longer, as well as having at least 4 other symptoms. These symptoms could come in the form of having trouble sleeping, not eating right, changes in energy levels, negative self-image and various other issues.

Regardless, there have been many developments throughout the past decade that has increased a mental health professional’s ability to help someone suffering from depression. Advances in the discovery of what potentially causes depression has helped scientists and doctors pinpoint even better ways to treat it; one such newer form of treatment is called “Virtual Reality Therapy”.  In this particular process, the patient is immersed into a form of virtual reality where they experience a technique known as “embodiment”. The patient has a sort of virtual reality headset, complete with auditory and visual enhancement, which enables them to see an avatar of a human.

During this process, the patients were able to look in a “mirror” so to speak, since the avatar mocked their own movements. In one such study, the patients were interacting with another avatar of a small child who was crying, and they learned to show compassion to the child through the virtual reality process. Eventually the child avatar would stop crying after the patient’s interactions with it, and responded positively to the compassion it was given from each patient.

Eventually, the patient then experiences the same interactions, from the view of the child avatar and experienced what it was like to receive that compassion that they showed. In essence, they were able to replace self-criticism with self-compassion, which was shown to have helped significantly decreased their depression symptoms. Many of the patients were able to help modify their viewpoints and thought process from this type of therapy, which undoubtedly translated into their everyday lives.

Although we are not yet able to offer Virtual Reality as a treatment at the Peak Behavioral Health Services facility, we look forward to the opportunity of providing treatment options like these to our patients in the future. This immersive virtual reality therapy undoubtedly proved that it can have a place in the future treatment of various depressive disorders. As we continue forward in the next few years, it is becoming clear that a combination of technology mixed with various therapy can have significant impacts on the reduction of depression symptoms. It is an exciting time that we live in, and the future for those suffering from various mental and behavioral health issues continues to get brighter.

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