Personalised virtual reality technology which enables new forms of self-reflection could help to improve and maintain positive mental health. So a collaborative team of researchers, led by experts from the University of Sheffield, are pioneering a highly personalised, therapeutic VR tool which people with common mental health problems can use to create an immersive version of their journey through life. The tool allows people to capture life events, upload relevant digital content and reflect on their thoughts and feelings in great detail.

As well as helping with better mental health, this approach could also be beneficial for people in the early stages of dementia, those receiving end-of-life care and those with addiction problems or long-term physical conditions. Around one in four UK adults has a mental health condition, with depression and anxiety being the most common. There is a widely-recognised urgent need to find approaches to treatment which are cost effective and attractive, particularly for those who do not benefit from existing services.

Dr Chris Blackmore, from the Mental Health Research Unit at the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “With more people seeking help with mental health problems, and increasing pressure on existing services, new ways of intervening faster and more effectively to help people are needed, and the use of new technology is one way of improving care; making it more personalised and engaging. “Previous research has shown that recovery from an experience such as depression is a complex, personal journey and a proactive personalised approach to understanding people’s individual needs would be a valuable component of treatment. This narrative approach to treatment of common mental health problems is favoured by users of mental health services, but that level of choice is often unavailable. We wanted to develop a tool which puts people’s own personal experience at the centre of things, and helps them to tell their life-stories in a new way.”

He added: “As stated in the NHS five-year forward review, medicine is moving from one-size-fits-all to personalised care, offering higher recovery rates and fewer side effects. This is exactly what LifePathVR is designed to offer.”

Source: University of Sheffield