Welcome to a new wave of psychological research — VR content that’s primarily designed to aid exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is a treatment for anxiety disorders, exposing patients to anxiety-inducing stimuli in a safe, controlled environment. During VR therapy, one straps on a headset, sinks into the past, faces one’s fears albeit in a controlled manner and overcome the disorders in real life. It aims at making patients eventually learn that the “threats” they perceive are not actually very dangerous.
Post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), anxiety attacks and different phobias are battles many fight within themselves. The pandemic has even contributed to worsening these disorders in some. Fear, anger, worry, frustration, etc. keep many on the edge even as they desperately look for solutions to control their mind from going berserk.
VR therapy appears to shine a new ray of hope in ending these mental health issues or helping in controlling the mind from coming unmoored. Doctors across the globe are increasingly suggesting VR therapy to diagnose and treat medical conditions.
The technology, which immerses a patient in a 3D environment mimicking a traumatic memory or other mental health issues, is catching up in India as well and showing promising results.
VR: the next big thing for mental health
Dr Jaydip Chaudhuri, Senior Neuro Physician at Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, explains how VR and augmented reality (AR), which use computer-generated situations, help mental health patients.
“Patients with anxiety and mental disorders perceive these computer-generated situations using special high-end goggles. It appears to be a potential diagnostic and therapeutic tool for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias,” he says, adding that studies have shown that VR therapy to definitely benefit patients with dementia and help their care-givers and families to a significant extent. “Patients with dementia were found to have reduced aggression and interacted better with their caregivers when they were treated and exposed to VR therapy.”
How it works
Taking us through the intervention technique, Dr Nirali Bhatia, Cyber Psychologist & Psychotherapist, provides an example of a client who has a fear of height “What they normally do is to use an intervention technique, called guided imagery, in which clients are asked to visualise the scenario and stimulate that whole experience. They are then guided to work towards it while their bodily changes are closely watched.
“This process requires the client to be able to cognitively get into that trance. At every level, the client’s feelings are monitored,” Dr Nirali says, adding that VR’s easy and life-like simulation can be applied to every client irrespective of the barriers of language or cognitivity.
The doctor further describes the process. “VR therapy applies a stimulus environment where the client is slowly asked to move to the next floor. At every level, the client’s made to notice their feelings, regarding how they were feeling previously and whether they’re feeling better,” says the doctor. “At that point, if anxiety or palpitations show up in the client or their body movements, we immediately intervene and guide them on how to handle it. Then, we slowly move on to the next level. VR applications work with a controlled exposure, which eventually make clients well prepared to handle those scenarios in real life.”
What lies ahead in VR therapy
Doctors describe VR therapy as a “major breakthrough” in treating mental health disorders, calling it the next big thing in the medical field though it’s yet to fully enter the mainstream.
Experts, however, clarify that some clients would need several simulations ‘sittings’ to get better results. For some, each session could feel as if they were in a fantasy novel.
Dr Krishna Sahiti, consultant psychiatrist in Apollo Hospital, Jubilee Hills, says they use audio and visual aids to slowly increase the intensity of the stimulus in VR. “Physical symptoms and psychological reaction are assessed slowly. Clients who avoid and are fearful about the stimulus will experience the stimulus with the help of a psychiatrist and in a protected environment, which is hassle-free,” the doctor informs. “In further sessions the intensity of stimulus is slowly increased so that we can help the patient experience the stimulus without symptoms while helping them.”
What is clinical depression ?
A mental disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.Possible causes include a combination of biological, psychological and social sources of distress. Increasingly, research suggests that these factors may cause changes in brain function, including altered activity of certain neural circuits in the brain.
People may experience
- Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent,guilty, hopelessness,loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or sadness.
- Behavioural :agitation, excessive crying,irritability,restlessness,or social isolation
- Sleep:early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia,or restless sleep
- Whole body:excessive hunger, fatigue,or loss of appetite
- Cognitive:lack of concentration, slowness in activity.
- Weight:weight gain or weight loss
- Also common:poor appetite or repeatedly going over thoughts
What counts as an eating disorder ?
An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, characterized by eating, exercise and body weight or shape becoming an unhealthy per occupation of someone’s life.
Facts about eating disorders:
- Eating disorders are the most deadly health disorder because they cause myriad physical health problems that can lead to death.
- Eating disorders may or may not be associated with a distorted body image.
- They are equally prevalent across race an ethnicity.
Common types of eating disorders:
- Binge eating disorder
Signs that may lead to the development of an eating disorder include:
- Low self-esteem
- Extreme self-criticism
- Needing to be and do things perfectly
- Obsessive exercising
Two out of five adults with ADHD have excellent mental health: Study
As per a new study, two in five adults (42 per cent) with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were in excellent mental health. The findings were published in the International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology.
“This finding provides a very hopeful message for both individuals struggling with ADHD and their loved ones,” said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging.
“This research marks a paradigm shift. Most previous research, including my own, has focused on mental illness among those with ADHD so to focus on those who are thriving mentally is refreshing and very heartening,” added Esme Fuller-Thomson.
“Our findings emphasize the importance of addressing comorbid mental health issues when providing care to individuals with ADHD,” said co-author Bradyn Ko, a recent graduate of the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at the University of Toronto.
“Those with ADHD who also struggle with depression and anxiety face substantial barriers to achieving complete mental health and may benefit from targeted care. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a very promising intervention that has been shown to be effective for those with ADHD”
“These results highlight potentially modifiable risk factors to support the well-being of adults with ADHD,” said co-author Lauren Carrique, a recent MSW graduate from the University of Toronto.
“When compared to being sedentary, engaging in optimal levels of physical activity approximately quadrupled the odds of complete mental health. This underlines the potential value of physical activity in helping individuals with ADHD achieve excellent mental health.”
“The finding that female respondents were less likely to be in flourishing mental health highlights the specific vulnerabilities among women with ADHD,” said co-author Andie MacNeil, a recent Master of Social Work graduate from the University of Toronto. “This aligns with other research that has found higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality among women with ADHD, which may partially explain this gap in mental well-being.”
“Although we were surprised and delighted to find that two in five adults with ADHD were in excellent mental health, they are still lagging far behind their peers without ADHD, for whom 74 per cent were thriving. There is still a long way to go in closing the mental health gap between those with and without ADHD,” said Fuller-Thomson. “This study calls attention to this gap, while also emphasizing potential mechanisms to reduce this discrepancy.”
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