The potential for virtual reality (VR) to help deliver care for people living with mental health illness has been long know however the price of this technology was previously expensive and challenging to develop.

So how is VR being used?

Dr Greg Wadley, a technologist from the University of Melbourne, says the main focus of using VR to deliver mental health care, was for people living with phobias or anxieties.

With technology ever-changing, commercially available VR headsets can now put people in front of a crowd to help them overcome their fear of public speaking, all the while being in a controlled environment.

Dr Wadley said the more updated technology doesn’t just make the simulation more realistic, but it can also make the scene more behaviourally accurate.

Researches from the University of Oxford are also focusing on mental illness, particularly paranoia and helping people deal with difficult social situations.

What is next in store for VR?

Not only does VR replicate a real-world environment, but it can be used to help visualise abstract concepts.

Dr Wadley’s computer science department at the University of Melbourne is currently working alongside a youth mental health clinic, Orygen  to help develop VR treatments for young people with psychosis and depression.

Does this mean VR replaces psychologists?

Dr Wadley said the aim wasn’t to replace psychologists, but is designed to be used with the guidance of professionals.

VR can eliminate some of the limitations of in-person therapy. These include cost and accessibility.

What technology revolutions are next for VR?

Up until now, people have used smart phones as a means of delivering mental health treatments, but the new idea is using said phone to find out when treatment is actually needed.

“There are incredible privacy issues of course, but potentially the phone can become a real time diagnostic tool” said Dr Wadley.