Mental Health and Wellness Tech Innovation in Response to COVID-19

Gwendolyn Gaumond, MS, MA, LPC

Over the past few weeks since shelter at home orders have been in place, we have seen several positive and innovative pivots on the part of the mental health technology companies to respond to the changing needs of the populations that use them. In the beginning phases of the stay at home order we saw many mental health and wellness companies offer their solutions for free or at a significantly reduced cost. We saw companies extend their support for essential workers and we saw a surge of interest in mental health tech from financial markets. Some companies, however, have begun to pivot their experiences in a way that addresses more long-term access issues.

Recently, many virtual reality (VR) offerings have begun to pivot to offer their solutions in 2D. In layman’s terms this means you can now view the experience from a browser as well as in a VR environment. Some content developers have already launched browser-based options and others have put this in their development roadmap. This pivot covers several issues for mental health patients as well as the general population consumers of wellness or mental health tech.

Offering both a browser option and a more immersive virtual reality version of a mental health tool allows anyone with a browser to access the content without owning or having access to a VR headset. Patients and users who have access to a browser on a PC or mobile device can now take advantage of content previously only offered in VR.

During the COVID-19 pandemic this pivot to browser-based content also allows people to experience the content without having to put a headset on; overcoming anxiety some users may feel about sanitation of worn equipment. This fear can persist for some users in spite of best practices around headset cleaning procedures.

There is another benefit to a browser based experience – it allows groups of people to experience the content all at once. National Mental Health Innovation Center has seen this as a common request within our Tech Innovation Network (TIN). The TIN is a network of clinical and community sites that access wellness and mental health technology with the help of NMHIC. For these sites it is a huge plus when content can be shared on a screen for a group to participate in.

Immersive content is the preferred modality for many experiences, particularly exposure therapies and for those just starting with mindfulness. However, during this unprecedented time in our world we appreciate the agility and forethought of companies who are broadening their experiences to reach more people in need of their content.

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