Thursday, May 13News For London

Virtual reality eases depression, finds UCL

Immersive virtual reality headsets could help people with depression to become more compassionate towards themselves, new research has found.

Credit: Creative Commons' HD Brain Imaging gallery
Credit: Creative Commons’ HD Brain Imaging gallery

Scientists from University College London and ICREA-University in Barcelona tested the therapy on 15 patients with depression. Following the virtual reality therapy, four experienced a clinically significant drop in depressive severity a month after the therapy began. A further five reported a reduction in symptoms.

The 15 patients with depression used a headset to virtually interact with a crying child. The more compassion the patient shows to the child, the quicker they stop crying. This trains the patient to express empathy and compassion.

In the press release, study lead Professor Chris Brewin explained. “By comforting the child and then hearing their own words back, patients are indirectly giving themselves compassion.”

The NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines currently state that a diagnosis of depression can be made when a patient has the following symptoms:

• Persistent sadness or low mood nearly every day.
• Loss of interests or pleasure in most activities.

Plus some of the following symptoms:

• Fatigue or loss of energy.
• Worthlessness, excessive or inappropriate guilt.
• Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, or actual suicide attempts.
• Diminished ability to think/concentrate or increased indecision.
• Psychomotor agitation or retardation.
• Insomnia/hypersomnia.
• Changes in appetite and/or weight loss.

Annually, 5% of adults will have an episode of depression within the UK. Image credit: Created by Charlotte Staley
Annually, 5% of adults will have an episode of depression within the UK. Image credit: Created by Charlotte Staley

Although the results of the study are promising, this was a small trial without a control group. The researchers now plan to develop the technique further and conduct a larger controlled trail.

Co-author Professor Mel Slater stated that “the recent marketing of low-cost home virtual reality systems means that methods such as this could potentially be part of every home and be used on a widespread basis.”

Sub-edited by: David Gregg