Young people in the Northern Territory are stepping into the world of virtual reality (VR) as part of a new trial aimed at breaking down the barriers to mental health care.
Table of Contents
- Children in the Top End are trialling new VR technology that aims to provide mental health support
- The project coordinator says the aim is to bridge gaps in access to mental health care
- It is hoped the technology will be able to be used in remote communities
VR mental health sessions have started being trialled in parts of the NT’s Top End region, as part of a project from the NT’s Menzies School of Health Research and Aboriginal VR developer Brett Leavy.
By gamifying programs to address youth mental illness, cognitive disabilities and neurodiversity, the team hopes the project will help tackle major obstacles to care in the territory such as issues with remoteness and staffing.
Mr Leavy, a Kooma man, said the project particularly took a new approach to the mental health of young First Nations people by connecting them to their culture and country through VR.
“It’s fun, it’s engaging, it’s a new technology,” he said.
“It’s a new technology for an ancient culture.”
The NT has the highest rate of suicide in the country, with young people and First Nations people particularly at risk.
Mr Leavy said helping First Nations kids connect with their country and culture could have enormous mental health benefits.
“It’s identity,” he said.
“If you know your identity and that connection to country … there’s nothing more important in my view.
“I’ve seen people really respond to that.”
The pilot is being led by Zoe Collins from Big Sky Psychology, an NT-based tele-psychology service.
She said the project aimed to bridge some of the gaps young Territorians faced when it came to mental health care access, especially in remote areas.
“We noticed a lot of young people were having difficulty accessing in-person services and accessing services online too,” Ms Collins said.
“Having services that are destigmatised, that are interactive, that you can use at home, or at the clinic or at the school … would be really important to help provide some consistency in terms of their therapeutic experience and wellbeing.”
“It could just be something used by support workers in the community if it helps.”
She said the program was initially aimed at helping children with anxiety, but would hopefully expand to include support for other mental health concerns, behavioural issues and emotional regulations.
Emma Stevenson from TeamHEALTH, which is also a project partner, said she hoped it was a program that could eventually be rolled out across the Top End.
“[We’re] looking at building in the therapeutic VR work with our existing programs, so that’s within the Darwin region, Katherine, Gunbalanya and Maningrida,” she said.