After a long day, Netflix is the one thing I know that can help me unwind from all the stresses and challenges I faced at work. Even though there’s a ton of options available on their platform, I seldom gravitate away from Black Mirror, a show that piques my interest, especially because of their portrayal and exploration of modern technology.
While the show focuses largely on the dark sides and the pitfalls of artificial intelligence and gamification (such as addiction, preoccupation and dystopian fallacies), there are in actual fact, a large body of research that advocates for the use of these kinds of technologies, given the vast number of benefits noticed via sectors like education, healthcare and even psychological intervention.
With all that being said, you can imagine my excitement when I was given the chance to explore the use similar types of modern technology and its innovative applications, by working on a project that looked to combine Virtual Reality (VR) and SOS’ work in suicide prevention into one.
As part of our mental health public education and outreach initiative in 2021, SOS created alive interactive video using VR called “Let’s talk about it”, in collaboration with MindCare (AMKFSC Community Services Ltd. Mental Health Division) under the NCSS Mental Health Public Education Grant Call. This video aimed to better equip youths and young adults with peer helping skills and knowledge, to support a loved one that may be struggling with thoughts of suicide.
“Let’s talk about it” follows a storyline from the perspective of a concerned third party, portrayed as a youth, engaging with a suicidal peer. Similar to Bandersnatch, this immersive video employs the "choose your own adventure" concept, where participants make choices of how they would respond to someone struggling with suicidal thoughts. The choices they make at each junction would have an impact on the story’s outcome. Throughout the video, participants are also given the opportunity to identify the warning signs of suicide, and to explore common facts and misconceptions.
To make sure the video carries an air of authenticity, we incorporated peer assisting narratives by collaborating with our own clients (with lived experience of suicide), during the storyboarding phase. Crucially, we really felt that using VR helped to set this experience apart from merely watching a video, as it allows for an immersive experience from a first-person perspective, where you can almost walk in the shoes of someone else to better empathise and understand what it’s like to support a loved one with suicidal thoughts.
We launched the video in March 2021, and since then we’ve conducted several outreach sessions with not only school counsellors, but also tertiary students and fellow colleagues of ours! My team and I have been very fortunate to see how well-received this video has been amongst everyone we’ve let experience it, especially amongst the youths.
To summarise, the possible applications of VR in the mental health, suicide prevention and other medical fields seem to be endless. What’s more, it seems like this technology can be applied as more than just a tool for education or to increase mental health literacy, but to directly benefit survivors of suicide.
With that being said, I truly am excited to explore how we can apply VR technology in counselling settings, or even volunteer skills training.
What are some of your thoughts or ideas on how to creatively apply these forms of immersive technology in our sector?
KNOW SOMEONE WHO MAY BE FACING A CRISIS OR GOING THROUGH A TOUGH TIME? LEARN WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP SOMEONE IN CRISIS, OR FIND OUT MORE ABOUT OUR SERVICES HERE.
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