Virtual reality for suicide prevention

Virtual reality for suicide prevention

Virtual reality for suicide prevention

A team of researchers from the Black Dog Institute and UNSW (The University of New South Wales in Sydney) investigated the effects of virtual reality as an intervention tool in improving positive thoughts and its potential reduction of suicidality.

The project entitled The Edge of the Present, was developed for The Big Anxiety Festival at UNSW in 2019 and was carried out by the Center for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention in Suicide Prevention) from the Black Dog Institute.

The study, involving 79 people with depression and suicidal experiences, was led by Professor Jill Bennett of UNSW Art & Design and Professor Katherine Boydell of the Black Dog Institute.

Efficacy of VR in suicide prevention

It has been the first research that had the objective of evaluating the effectiveness of virtual reality immersion for interventions in depression and hopelessness. According to Professor Bennett, the results showed that positive mood and future thinking increase rapidly after the immersion experience.

It was the artist Alex Davies from UNSW Art & Design who developed the virtual environment: a 10-minute experience, which allowed an exploration in virtual landscapes set in a tropical rainforest, a snowy mountain or a desert.

Virtual reality for suicide prevention

The virtual experience consisted of making decisions to obtain a response that in turn gave an immediate positive feeling. To obtain results, it is essential that the positive feeling and the immersion in wonderful landscapes are linked as a result of direct action.

Empirical evidence teaches that those with severe depression have difficulty not just remembering but also attaching emotion to memories. This makes it hard to think about yourself enjoying an experience, in the past and in the future.

The potential of virtual reality

The present study demonstrates effects on mood, increasing positive thoughts and well-being, as well as decreased rates of hopelessness and negative mood. “Nothing has made me feel instantly better [more] than this virtual-reality work,” one participant reported.

The potential of this platform for suicide prevention in clinics and psychiatric emergencies is enormous. Although it is not a medical intervention, it proposes a people-centered solution in which, through an engaging game, it allows to obtain beneficial effects on humor.

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