Did you know that your employees may already use extended reality (XR) tools for mental health support? Virtual, augmented and mixed reality (collectively known as XR) tools have many applications. Popular examples range from gaming to helping medical professionals train for complex procedures. However, as more experiences are created for XR technologies, mental health assessment and support are becoming more widely available.
In fact, virtual reality was one of the tools that I used to navigate through an episode of depression. By using an application that focused on verbal meditation and reactive visual stimulation based on my voice, I was able to practice daily calming techniques. I was also able to use XR applications to engage with friends from around the world, join a weekly virtual support group and collaborate with colleagues in an immersive environment. When it comes to XR, there are many possibilities that go beyond entertainment.
XR and Mental Health
Employers should understand the many ways they can support the mental health of their employees. While not all uses of XR for mental health will be relevant to the workplace, it is good to understand ways that your employees might utilize these new tools. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways XR might play a role in supporting your employees’ mental health.
Stress & Isolation
From virtual support groups to stress-relieving activities, XR can create new and healthy ways for employees who may find remote work isolating. As many employers are searching for new ways to engage and support employees, some are beginning to turn to XR tools. Recently, a multinational company that gives its employees a yearly wellness stipend opened eligible offerings to include virtual experiences that promote wellness. These virtual wellness experiences can range from meditation to movement.
Mental Health Assessments
Early research supports the ability of XR to be an effective tool in assessing mental health. According to Bell et al., “VR elicits similar psychological and physiological reactions to real-world environments, extending the reach of current assessments beyond the lab or clinic. Superior capabilities for experimental manipulation and controlled exposure could significantly advance the field of mental health by improving methodological rigor, as well as enabling more accurate and individualized assessment.”
Another interesting application of XR is exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many people who experience PTSD may benefit from specific programs designed to help them from their own homes.
XR and Accessibility
Evidence shows that immersive tools can be used to improve mental health. From assessments to guided meditation experiences and immersive art creation, there are many options for people to choose from to find support. While these applications of XR are exciting, it is critical to remember that each tool and experience must be accessible for all in order to be considered a success.
Note: The content above is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you or someone that you know would benefit from mental health resources, please speak with a medical professional, and consider visiting the following resources:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Toolkit: PEAT guidance on how to procure accessible XR technologies
- Article: Three ways virtual reality could transform mental health treatment
- Article: Phobias, paranoia and PTSD: Why virtual reality therapy is the frontier of mental health treatment
- Article: Virtual reality plays role in mental health treatment