top of page
AI pixabay huge.jpg

VR could soon bridge the access gap in mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a mental health crisis that the healthcare system is not staffed to address. Today, more people are in need of mental and behavioral healthcare than ever before: according to a global study conducted last year, the prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders have increased by 28% and 26%, respectively, since the beginning of the pandemic.

This dramatic rise in demand for mental health services has overwhelmed a healthcare system that was already under-resourced. Psychotherapists are working around the clock to manage their swelling patient lists. In this field, saying “no” to people seeking treatment for themselves or their loved ones can be uniquely challenging. How do you turn down a mother whose child was discharged after a suicide attempt? How do you make a referral to another mental health provider when you know their waitlist is just as long as yours? Unfortunately, most of us have had to have these tough conversations with people who need our services. As therapists, we need another way to get people the treatment they need.

In response to increased demand for mental health services, a flurry of digital solutions have flooded the market. Many of these solutions are designed to be low-intensity, low-touch; they’re mental health apps and tools that provide guidance in mindfulness and meditation. They aren’t designed to treat people with full criterion mental health diagnoses, and they don’t require the touch of a mental health professional. They are a great resource for people who have more mild symptoms, are waiting for a psychotherapy slot, or are using them to supplement full-scale treatment. Other solutions, like teletherapy, are designed to be high-intensity, high-touch; they offer platforms that help connect patients to actual therapists. While these platforms bridge gaps in access to care and can help patients avoid waitlists, they still depend on the existing workforce.

Virtual reality (VR) may be the magic antidote to mental health’s supply-demand crisis. It is a high-intensity, low-touch alternative: it has the ability to create immersive intervention experiences built on the foundations of empirically-supported psychotherapies without heavy reliance on psychotherapists.


bottom of page