New project exploring use of VR for mental health and well-being

A collaborative team of researchers at the University of Sheffield, led by Dr Chris Blackmore from ScHARR, is pioneering a highly personalised, therapeutic VR tool which people with common mental health problems can use to create an immersive version of their journey through life.

The LifePathVR tool will allow people to capture life events, upload relevant digital content and reflect on their thoughts and feelings in great detail.

As well as helping with better mental health, this approach could also be beneficial for people in the early stages of dementia, those receiving end-of-life care and those with addiction problems or long-term physical conditions.

Dr Chris Blackmore, from the Mental Health Research Unit at the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “With more people seeking help with mental health problems, and increasing pressure on existing services, new ways of intervening faster and more effectively to help people are needed, and the use of new technology is one way of improving care; making it more personalised and engaging.

“Previous research has shown that recovery from an experience such as depression is a complex, personal journey and a proactive personalised approach to understanding people’s individual needs would be a valuable component of treatment.

The Sheffield based team includes experts in mental health and computer science from the University of Sheffield, working in collaboration with designers Human Studio and local mental health charity Sheffield Flourish.

Sheffield Flourish collaborate on innovative digital and community projects, recognising the untapped strengths of people who’ve experienced mental health problems.

Josie Soutar, Managing Director at Sheffield Flourish, said: “Sheffield Flourish is a charity that embraces engagement with digital innovations and tools, seeing them as an opportunity to find new ways to help people living with mental health difficulties to live the life they want to lead.

“We were therefore especially interested in being involved in the LifePathVR project, as it has the potential to transform the way people are able to view, engage with and tell their personal story through a virtual journey.”

This narrative approach to treatment of common mental health problems is favoured by users of mental health services, but that level of choice is often unavailable. We wanted to develop a tool which puts people’s own personal experience at the centre of things, and helps them to tell their life-stories in a new way.

DR CHRIS BLACKMORE, SR UNIVERSITY TEACHER, SCHARR

A proof of concept film demonstrating the vision for LifePathVR has been made possible by funding from the Medical Research Council’s Proximity to Discovery: Industry Engagement Fund, and a recent award from the Research Design Service Yorkshire and Humber Public Involvement Fund (a branch of the National Institute for Health Research) is enabling Dr Blackmore to run patient participation workshops later this year.

For more information, see the University of Sheffield press release here

To watch the proof of concept film, visit www.lifepathvr.org