Each year, 1 in 5 adults in the US experience mental illness, and 1 in 6 youth experience a mental health disorder. The US is in a mental health crisis. In October 2021, health professionals from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health. They cited rising rates of mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality among children and their families, exacerbated by the pandemic and the struggle for racial justice. They called upon the government and advocates to help address this crisis.

With the increase of virtual tech platforms that offer cognitive and behavioral support, some are asking whether virtual reality could “cure” the mental health crisis. Probably not, though it can help. Instead, a better solution to the crisis would be to address provider shortages and make mental health services affordable…or introduce a disruptive innovation.

Virtual reality (“VR”), or the metaverse, has been a hot topic for a while. It’s a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment where people can immerse themselves in a virtual world where they or their avatar can play games, host events, and socialize, but also de-stress, obtain peer support, and participate in therapy.

VR definitely has a place in the mental health spectrum of services, but it’s not a solution to the mental health crisis. The solution to the mental health crisis is likely addressing the provider shortage by gaining more mental health providers and making mental health services affordable, or a disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovations make products or services more accessible and affordable, thereby making them available to a larger population. There are three components that make up a disruptive innovation:

  1. An enabling technology that allows a product or service to be delivered at a more affordable price to a broader market;
  2. An innovative business model targeting either nonconsumers (those who previously did not or could not buy products or services in a given market) or low-end consumers (the least profitable customers), and;
  3. A value network where suppliers, partners, distributors, and customers (in this case patients or clients) are each better off when the disruptive technology prospers.

Read the full article about technology for mental health support by Emmanuelle Verdieu at Christensen Institute.