Understanding the Potential of Immersive Technology in Mental Health: Insights from the Digital Healthcare Show

May 14, 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more people experiencing mental health issues and contributed to the immense pressure on mental health support services. One emerging field that holds promise for transforming mental health provision is immersive technology, which offers therapeutic experiences, enhancing access to interventions like virtual reality therapy.

Our Executive Director of Digital and Transformation Dr Amanda Begley and Head of Mental Health Aileen Jackson recently spoke on panels at the Digital Healthcare Show, shedding light on and discussing the role of immersive technology in revolutionising mental health care. In this blog they reflect on key takeaways from their panel discussions, speak on how the Mindset-XR Innovation Support Programme will empower innovators to navigate the complex healthcare landscape and discuss how we can overcome the barriers leading to widespread adoption.

The Mindset-XR Innovation Support programme, which the Health Innovation Network (HIN) South London is leading, plays a central role in advancing immersive technology for mental health by guiding project developers navigating this relatively nascent world and actively stimulating interest for it across the UK. A recurring theme in the discussion at the event was the transformative potential of immersive technology in mental health and its application in diverse areas, examples include, promoting well-being through mindfulness experiences, facilitating exposure therapy for phobias and immersive training tools for healthcare professionals to improve empathy and reduce stigma using the lived experience of people with psychosis and schizophrenia.

Key Takeaways from the Panel Discussion

Not many people are familiar with immersive technology, so having expert Ross O'Brien, Co-Founder of XHRA, on our panel was valuable. His explanation of different immersive technologies in layman's terms helped clarify the topic and develop an understanding amongst audiences.

The importance of having diverse perspectives when discussing how to navigate the complexities of immersive technology adoption was key. From technical expertise to service user and clinical insights, the panels brought together stakeholders from various domains to explore the opportunities and challenges inherent in this growing field.

Notably, Deputy Clinical Director for Mental Health at the HIN South London, Dr Nicola Reynolds perspective as a clinician highlighted the potential of immersive technology in enhancing understanding and support for conditions like ADHD, bridging gaps in education and awareness.

We heard from Sean Carroll of We Are Anagram, a company that received funding from Innovate UK’s Mindset XR strand 1 funding. Their innovative virtual reality training solution is for medical students, nurses, and mental health professionals. This immersive training tool allows users to step into the shoes of a person diagnosed with schizophrenia, following their journey from early childhood to diagnosis through treatment and their recovery journey. The experience is co-designed from the person’s perspective, using a trauma-informed approach, which aims to help healthcare professionals better understand and empathise with people living with these conditions.

Despite the promise of immersive technology, several challenges were highlighted by Jamie Foster from Hill Dickinson our legal representative on the panel and Emily Wheeler from MQ Mental Health Research who gave the lived experience perspective. Regulatory uncertainties, resource constraints, and cultural barriers require a concerted effort to address and overcome these obstacles. We heard there is still a need for ongoing education and awareness initiatives to clarify immersive technology and foster a culture of collaboration both within healthcare settings and with people who experience mental health issues. However, when asked if the UK is ready for immersive tech in mental health the answer was a resounding yes from all panellists.

Empowering Innovators and Ensuring Collaboration: The Mindset XR Innovation Support Programme's Impact

For innovators embarking on the journey of integrating immersive technology into mental health care, the Mindset XR Innovation Support programme offers a comprehensive support system. The programme's commitment is to provide tailored guidance, resources, and mentorship to facilitate the realisation of each project's full potential. By addressing key areas such as regulatory compliance, user involvement, and clinical research, the programme aims to empower innovators, to navigate the complex landscape of healthcare innovation with confidence.

We're able to make connections for them [innovators], so they can receive feedback and learn where they need to adapt. We enable innovators to get some traction by demonstrating their products and getting vital advice on how they need to develop so that they're able to enter the market. To know we may be improving the lives of the one in four people who experience mental health issues in their lifetime through immersive technology is a highlight, and to get that feedback when innovators on the programme say “thank you”, it's why we're in the job.Aileen Jackson, Head of Mental Health

Overcoming Barriers to Implementation

As we navigate the complexities of modern healthcare, embracing innovation becomes imperative. The Mindset-XR Innovation Support Programme stands as a beacon of hope, guiding innovators on a journey to harness the power of immersive technology for the betterment of mental health care in the UK.

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If you're interested in learning more about the Mindset programme or getting involved in this exciting field, please get in touch. Additionally, consider signing up to our newsletter to stay updated on future developments and the launch of our shared learning community.

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