£3m for immersive technology to address mental health

The first 29 projects in Innovate UK’s Mindset programme include extended and virtual reality (XR and VR) using headsets, remote touch, music and sounds, and mobile gaming. 

Each year, a quarter of us in the UK experience some kind of mental health problem. Yet only half of those facing such issues currently receive any treatment.

boy and girl uses VR goggles in front of hot air balloons wallpaper   

The situation looks set to get worse with increasing number of people reporting such problems. Over the first two years of the Covid pandemic, the percentage of people reporting at least one severe problem doubled. 

But technology can help tackle rising demand. VR therapies can achieve outcomes two to three times faster than traditional treatments, cut wait times, improve access to services and reduce the severity of symptoms. 

Innovate UK’s £20m Mindset programme aims to grow the UK’s nascent immersive digital mental health sector by investing in such projects and creating a supportive ecosystem to help companies bring these innovations to market. 

The first 29 projects under the scheme have now been awarded funding. They will aim to address the current mental health needs across all ages in the UK, supporting those with conditions such as anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, dementia and psychosis. 

The projects include: 

Rescape, based in Wales, which provides pain management via VR for inpatients and outpatients, and has recently signed its 100th NHS customer. The aim now is to explore how music and AI can be used to create a personalised VR solution for people experiencing symptoms of anxiety and so build mental resilience. 

XR Therapeutics, based in the North East, already provides services to three NHS trusts, using VR headsets to help autistic children and those with phobias. The funding will allow more neurodivergent adults and children to participate.  

SyncVR, based in London, will create the world’s first mood management application to be used on VR headsets, supporting high-risk patients waiting for mental health care. 

George MacGinnis, UK Research and Innovation Healthy Ageing Challenge Director at Innovate UK, says: ‘A warm welcome to the innovators who have won grants in our first call to develop immersive mental health therapeutics. As we see demand for mental health support outstrip the capacity of health services around the world, solutions using immersive technologies could transform the way care is provided. 

‘These new tools provide clinicians the ability to deliver a more engaging experience, improve access to care and enable those clinicians to see and treat more patients effectively. The UK has a huge talent devoted to developing immersive digital experiences and applying this to create novel solutions for mental health could be a real game-changer.’ 

In related news, £70m funding was recently granted to Health Data Research UK.

Photo by stem.T4L


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