Potential therapeutic benefits of using VR for Mental Health.
A little over a year and a half ago my nephew Bracey Smith, founder and CEO of Potential Synergy Incorporated, gave me a demonstration of Google Earth Virtual Reality. After using it for several hours to “revisit” the numerous places I had been to throughout my life, I immediately sensed its potential benefits as a form of therapy for those suffering from Bipolar I disorder (which I have) and other forms of mental illness.
We live in an age where all forms of mental disorders have attached to them negative stereotypes which undermines & dismisses the humanity of those who suffer from such ailments; making their already difficult lot in life all the more untenable. It's largely due to this that in spite of so called advances in therapy & prescribed medications, suicide rates from those suffering from mental illness continue to rise; with Bipolar I alone claiming upwards of 35,000 lives a year in the United States.
To put this in its proper context, Bipolar I claims more American lives via suicide in a three year span than this country lost in twelve years of fighting in Vietnam between 1961 and 1973.
A big reason for this is because in regards to mental illness, we pursue a policy of containment rather than seeking a cure. As such, no serious effort is being made to understand the how and why in regards to what triggers one’s brain chemistry goes haywire to the extent that one’s sanity is literally hijacked to the point where suicide becomes a viable option in order to relieve the mental turmoil & subsequent disruption of one’s life and daily routine.
All of the advertisements for these latest medications to treat those with Bipolar I & other forms of mental illness have one thing in common; they show happy go lucky people frolicking at work & play and they greatly deemphasize the destructive side effects of all of these drugs from increased risk of suicide, higher blood pressure, increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, liver, kidney disease among many others.
This is due to a lack of understanding as to why these drugs do what they’re supposed to do; an understandable state of affairs since again we do not know the how & why of mental illness; thus making form of medical treatment of it a crapshoot with invariably catastrophic & fatal results.
It is therefore critical that new means be developed to provide life saving temporary relief to those who are in throes of a mental crisis and as I told my nephew during my first session with Google Earth VR, that VR had the potential to do just that without the destructive side effects of prescribed medications. Yet at the time of my initial use of Google Earth VR, I was not in the midst of one of my bi annual severe Bipolar I crashes and that until I used Google Earth VR in the midst of one, that I was still only speculating as to its potential of being a viable means of therapy to treat my condition.
This all changed on the morning of Wednesday June 6. 2018 when during the course of a two day visit to my family home in Freeport NY to see the Baltimore Orioles play the New York Mets at Citi Field, my June crash came on with a vengeance; hitting with such severity that I was literally brought to my knees for a half hour in the driveway behind my car which I had gone to place my bag. I had been reeling from the onset of this crash since before I had arrived and struggled to conceal it from Bracey, his wife Anja, my Mom, and my two great nieces Amelie and Audrey.
Yet on Wednesday morning I was finally overwhelmed and made a point of getting myself outside so if the crash hit its peak, no one would see it. Even as I walked Amelie to school with her mother a few minutes after the collapse, I was struggling to regain the full use of my senses and after speaking with Anja upon our return to the house, I followed her suggestion to visit Bracey at their office on my way to Citi Field.
Upon seeing me and noticing my high level of mental distress, he proposed that that would be the proper time to test our theory. So I was hooked up and used Google Earth VR to trace the route I would take to Citi Field and then to my home in south central PA.
The positive effect was immediate, for as I focused on tracing my future travels, my brain went into overdrive and the increased mental activity soon overwhelmed the shifting chemicals to the point that I could feel the disrupted neural pathways being returned to regular order, thus providing immediate relief which continues as I write this some twenty hours after the event.
As of now the prevailing mindset in regards to the treatment of mental illness is to more or less shut down the brain’s activity; to make it rest so to speak, but I have learned that increased mental activity is the best and most effective way to combat the disruptive effects chemical imbalances induced by Bipolar I disorder.
If properly used, Google Earth VR & other forms of VR can accomplish this goal by stimulating mental activity in the midst of a crash and I further state if one uses this technology to focus on positive parts of their past & present in their use of this new technology, then this produce over time far more favorable results than any medication now available to treat this & other forms of mental illness and without the destructive side effects.
Being of such benefit, the case must be made that this is a viable option for the treatment of mental illness; thus making it coverable under existing health insurance policies with offset the cost of treating mental disorders. As part of individual & group therapy, VR stations should be set up in mental health facilities and under the guidance of trained professionals, be employed to treat severe depressive & manic episodes in place of prescribed medications with their correspondingly destructive side effects.
Of course the ultimate aim should be to find a cure and hasten the destruction of those negative stereotypes which add to the suffering of those suffering from mental illness. We must, in addition to all I have said here, come to a collective understanding that diseases of the mind no more strips a person of his/her humanity than any disease of the physical body; that to be afflicted with mental illness in no way makes one perpetually childlike at best, or an out of control raging animal at worst.
If we truly value human life as we say we do, then all effort must be made to find a cure but failing that, new methods must be found to treat mental illness along the lines of VR technology that does not have the destructive side effects of currently prescribed medications.
Of course the pharmaceutical companies which make these drugs will argue otherwise but understand that they will be arguing not to preserve human life but to protect their profits and these profits are of course by no means more important than human life. It is the latter that must be emphasized again, and again, and again, for far too many lives are being lost to mental illness as it is, and to the extent that Google Earth VR and other forms of VR technology can be used to ease the suffering of those afflicted with mental illness & thus save lives is the extent to which a determined effort must be made to incorporate them in the treatment of mental illness itself.
Eric Smith is a writer and online political activist who has a BA in English from Morehouse College (1987), and MA in English from Hofstra University (1990) and is the author of four books which can be purchased from Amazon
The L in Transition: Personal Snapshots of the Chicago Elevated as it entered the 21st Century.
The Brooklyn Broadway EL at 130: Personal Snapshots of Greater New York's Oldest Surviving EL. 1978-2008
My Facebook Rants: A Liberal’s Perspective on Social Media.
Dark Passage: America in the Age of Trump