What do we know about bipolar disorder? It's hereditary, is linked with an imbalance of noradrenaline and serotonin in the brain and is perpetuated by sleep-wake cycle problems and anxiety. How can virtual reality cure bipolar? That's the question scientists are diving into.
Dr. Lucia Valmaggia is currently working with a team at Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London to determine if virtual reality can model triggers and stressors that play into bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety and psychosis. By placing patients in virtual models of potentially stressful situations, such as a train or confined and crowded spaces, the team believes the patients can identify what triggers their mood swings or anxiety attacks.
"After several virtual sessions on the crowded bus, paranoid thoughts of people looking, pointing or laughing are believed to diminish in power," says Dr. Valmaggia. "Coping with the virtual world lends itself to coping in reality, affording the patient a better quality of life."
Valmaggia believes progression of mental illness may be avoided with continuous use of the virtual reality stimulations.
A team at UCLA did a study using mice and virtual reality to map the activity in the brain while utilizing VR. They concluded that your brain acts scattered and very different when interacting with non-augmented reality. This is beneficial to Valmaggia's team, as the patient knows what they're experiencing isn't real. As the technology evolves, this may change. You can read more about the UCLA study here.