VR grieving is good for you

By Kitty Knowles 15 May 2017
VR virtual reality grieving is good for you. Pic: Getty/Ljupco

Virtual reality can alleviate depression in times of bereavement.

When you lose someone close to you, it’s important to feel supported – and sharing the experience with other people can prove invaluable.

Today though, there’s a brand new way for the bereaved to seek support, even if you’re limited by your health or mobility:

Grieving in virtual reality could be the next big thing.

Grieving in VR

Using virtual reality in times of grief can significantly reduce symptoms of depression, a breakthrough new study from the University of Arizona has found.

Publishes in Computers in Human Behavior, this compared two different groups of widows and widowers over an 8-week period: one who attended a virtual reality support group twice a week, while the other read information from a grief education website.

All 30 participants learned about topics including physical health, mental well-being, sleep, dating, and parenting, and reported back regularly on feelings of depression, grief intensity, grief cognitions, yearning, loneliness, stress and sleep quality.

While both groups showed significant improvements in the impact of their grief, only those in the VR support group showed a significant improvement in depression over time.

A beach house was used as a safe space for discussion.

Why VR helped

The VR support group met as avatars in a virtual seaside cabin, built on the Second Life online platform.

This allowed them to come together from the comfort of their own homes – and discuss their experiences by typing in a chat program.

“Group members often shared things like: ‘Right now I’m crying at my keyboard, and I would never do this in person, but because I feel like there’s this anonymity, I can break down, while my avatar looks perfectly fine’,” on of the paper’s researcher’s Lindsey Knowles said.

Not only were subjects comfortable expressing their feelings, but the group said they felt as if they were in a real room during the sessions, with real people who were going through similar experiences.

“People who are depressed, or have more depressive symptoms, often remove themselves from their environment and from doing things that provide positive reinforcement and give them a sense of value,” said Knowles. “Showing up for a group twice a week—even if it is virtual—is a way for them to engage in the world that they haven’t been.”

The future of grief

The world has an ageing population, and we need to make sure everyone can access support when someone they know dies. That means investing in better online resources for older people who can’t easily get about in ‘real-life’.

Although VR support requires a dedicated moderator, it could well be the future.

As Knowles says: “All of us will experience different types of grief in our lives.”

Let’s help make that process feel better for everyone.