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Sunday, December 5, 2021
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Mental Health Awareness Month: Looking at the XR Angle

A look at some of the most exciting XR companies reshaping our approach to mental health.

 

In commemoration of Mental Health Awareness month, ARPost has put together a list of some of the companies and experiences that are using XR to help people develop all kinds of wellness.

Mental Health Providers

From developing empathy to understanding cognitive health in aging, to living new adventures or processing lived experiences, these companies are helping us live our best lives.

Healium

Healium is an AR and VR company that uses biofeedback recorded through wearable technology to help users visualize – and control – their emotions. Specifically, the platform aims to help users who struggle with feelings of stress and anxiety.

healium mental health month XR

Through partnerships with healthcare providers, universities, the Air Force, and tech partners including T-Mobile, Healium is helping the individuals that use the platform as well as enhancing our understanding of how XR impacts mental health.

REACT Neuro

Healium isn’t the only company out there using cutting-edge kit to help us understand our brains. REACT Neuro uses analytics developed by pairing their own custom algorithms with the eye-tracking that comes built into the latest headsets.

“What is so powerful is that this has never been done in brain health, largely because we’ve never had the technology to do it,” REACT Neuro co-founder and Chief Medical Officer Brian Nahed told ARPost in an interview earlier this month. “The current body of literature is limited to how we assess as human beings.”2

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REACT Neuro was initially interested in people with concussions. While the company hasn’t lost that focus, it is increasingly working with people who are experiencing cognitive decline or memory problems because of natural aging and other conditions.

MyndVR

MyndVR is specifically dedicated to working with older adults to reduce the feelings of isolation that these populations often face, even in communities. The company does this through providing shared experiences, as well as through an immense library of immersive content, including custom-made content.

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Some of this content is meant to be used in the ways in which we think of therapy, but much of it is more casual content that is carefully curated to avoid experiences that may be frightening or stressful to the aging population.

“What we’ve done is built a platform that is highly adjustable to this population. We’ve created a special balance around recreation and therapy,” MyndVR CEO Chris Brickler told ARPost. “The content that we’ve found to be really effective with this audience ties into their real-world therapy.”

MyndVR is also expanding our understanding of VR in mental health through partnerships with medical centers, memory experts, and universities around the world.

Rendever

Rendever is another company devoted to promoting mental health initiatives for older adults. The company often works with senior living communities to provide remote connection as well as one-of-a-kind experiences. Rendever usually works with institutions, but has also delivered special experiences to users in their own homes.

Rendever mental health XR

“Virtual reality sure holds possibilities for people like me,” Rendever user, George Hetrick, told ARPost in February after visiting the Grand Canyon in VR through an initiative by Rendever and AARP. “It’s something that surprised me and in the end, I’m thankful for it. It was a new experience for an old man.”

Kinful

Just like physical healthcare, mental health measures can be preventative as well as restorative. That’s why Kinful makes VR educational material to help school children understand the emotions that come with events that they might not have experienced first-hand to promote “social-emotional learning,” fostering healthy relationship skills and responsible decision making.

“We were interested in the idea of giving someone a shared experience that they could then process,” Kinful co-founder, Sam Williamson, told ARPost in an October 2020 interview. “Something that they had never experienced before but that was presented by a peer of theirs.”

Enterprise Solutions and Soft Skills Solutions

The root of many of these solutions lies in connections with other people. As a result, some solutions have a blurry line between personal mental health tools and interpersonal awareness solutions for enterprise. Companies like Viability and Talespin are human resources and career development companies focusing on workplace “soft skills” like empathy and communication.

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Foretell Reality is a “remote interpersonal experience” provider that serves enterprise as a remote collaboration solution but also has a huge footprint in VR therapy. General Manager Dror Goldberg credits the immersion and empowerment that comes with VR. This is particularly true for people who may have a preoccupation with their image, or the appearance of others.

“It is quite empowering to select your own avatar,” Goldberg told ARPost. “Being in this siloed space but not being concerned about the way that you look is a huge comfort to people who may not otherwise want to go to therapy.”

XRHealth

Similarly, other VR solutions in the mental health space are first-and-foremost telecommunications and telepresence solutions. XRHealth is employed for remote physical therapy. Patients are guided through motions and exercises through the display as well as by a remotely located human therapist who also helps with pain management.

Shout Out to Hardware

This article is about software experiences and companies, but they wouldn’t be possible without hardware solutions. That’s partially true because these experiences need to be delivered to be effective and they are often delivered through partnerships with hardware providers.

In particular, Pico Interactive is partnered with at least half of the experiences covered in this list. However, HTC VIVE and HP are also making huge strides not only in terms of the hardware itself but also in terms of how this hardware is being used in mental health.

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“There’s no doubt in our minds that advances in headsets, like the Neo 3 and others, will continue to drive the tech forward, just like it has with gaming,” Nahed said in our interview. “We are always excited and we are particularly excited for Pico’s success.”

While high-end and primarily enterprise-focused headsets are driving some of these use cases, increased awareness for mental health and for VR have coincided – and they support each other, according to Foretell Reality Head of Partnerships and Business Development, Michele Oberly.

“The drop in price of equipment has led to more people considering [VR for mental health],” Oberly told ARPost. “As it becomes more common, it enables more people to have access.”

The Future of Mental Health

In a way, we are blessed that VR is coming of age at the same time that we are becoming more aware of mental health topics. As hardware becomes more developed and we as humans become more comfortable talking about our software, organizations like those discussed above can only help us grow.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.