Using Virtual Reality to fight depression: Study shows promising results

Using Virtual Reality to fight depression: Study shows promising results

Reducing anxiety, loneliness, and depression with VR: Studies show positive effects of virtual reality for seniors.


A study by Dr. Kim Bullock and her team at Stanford University investigated the effectiveness of VR in treating depression. The goal was to find an alternative for patients who find it difficult to be active or leave the house due to their symptoms.

The study involved 26 people with major depressive disorder who were divided into two groups. One group received conventional behavioral treatment, while the other group used VR headsets to participate in various virtual activities. The study lasted four weeks, and participants met weekly with a clinical psychologist.

The results indicated that both groups experienced similar reductions in depression symptoms. This suggests that VR could be a viable method of treating depression. Especially for patients who have difficulty with conventional therapies.

VR enables patients to be treated at home

According to Dr. Bullock, VR can reduce barriers to mental health care. In particular, VR allows patients to receive treatment in the comfort of their homes. Previous studies have explored several applications of VR in mental health. These include overcoming fears and phobias, relieving pain, and learning social skills.

Margot Paul, clinical assistant professor, was instrumental in conducting the pilot study and subsequent randomized controlled trial. The team is now planning larger, longer-term studies to determine the best methods for delivering virtual behavioral activation and which patient populations might benefit most from VR treatment.


Participants' feedback on the use of VR was overwhelmingly positive. Many reported being motivated by the virtual activities. As a result, they became more active and wanted to do more outside the home. Based on this feedback, the team developed a companion VR behavioral activation app to help set up the devices and remind them to participate in the activities.


VR Therapy shows positive effects in the elderly

A French study led by Dr. Laurent Tatu examined the effects of 360-degree VR videos on older adults with and without cognitive impairment. The study, which included ten trials with a total of 524 older adults aged 68 to 87, found that VR can improve well-being by reducing anxiety, apathy, loneliness, and depression, as well as improving social inclusion and quality of life.

Positive effects were seen after just a few VR sessions. Participants found the VR experiences pleasant and realistic, leading to a decrease in negative emotions and an increase in positive emotions. Natural environments such as forests and beaches were found to be particularly calming. Some participants reported mild side effects such as dizziness and motion sickness, but these were rare.

In the US, specialty insurer AgeWell New York has also begun offering VR therapy sessions as part of its CareWell plan for nursing home residents. These sessions are provided in partnership with MyndVR, a company that specializes in VR experiences for seniors. MyndVR focuses on VR experiences such as virtual travel, recreation, and arts and culture experiences designed specifically for the elderly.

Sources: Stanford