National trial of Virtual Reality therapy for young people supported by Wellcome

Orygen Digital and the Centre for Youth Mental Health will receive a share of the £16.8M pool of funds from the Wellcome Mental Health Award to design an innovative new Virtual Reality therapy aimed at improving how young people with early psychosis function in social situations.

Professor Andrew Thompson Director of VR Research at Orygen Digital and Dr Roos Pot-Kolder Research Fellow at the Centre for Youth Mental Health and Orygen Digital will lead a team that will co-create a VR therapy with young people who have lived experience.

The funding boost will make it possible to test and evaluate this VR therapy in a trial across multiple centres including with partners at Alfred Health, Victoria, the University of Adelaide, South Australia, and Telethon Kids Institute, Western Australia.

To ensure that the VR therapy can be more easily adopted, implemented and accessed in clinical practices across Australia, the team will create materials, such as software, training videos and manuals.

Dr Pot-Kolder who led one of the largest trials so far in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy using VR said the new trial will build on rigorous research that VR can be a powerful therapeutic tool for young adults.

Dr Roos Pot-Kolder “Now we have the opportunity to design treatments specifically for young people – which currently do not exist for improving social cognition in early psychosis,” Dr Pot-Kolder said.

Professor Thompson said that recognition from a prestigious global funder such as Wellcome, against significant international competition, demonstrates that Australia is in a position to lead the way in evidence-based digital mental health-services.

Professor Andrew Thompson

“We are extremely proud to be recognised on a global scale for our endeavours to better the mental health of young Australians with significant mental health challenges, who currently have few options for targeted digital treatments,” Professor Thompson said.

Ultimately the trial aims to build national networks to deliver these cutting-edge therapies at scale around the country, and then internationally.

Psychotic disorders affect around 1% of the population worldwide. They are amongst the most severe and disabling of all mental disorders and have a disproportionately high social and economic cost. When someone has difficulty with social functioning this can make everyday life interactions including work, social activities and relationships challenging.

~64,000 people in Australia are living with a psychotic illness. Among these Australians, nearly two thirds have difficulty with social functioning, which is the ability for people to interact easily and successfully with other people in social situations.

The trial is set to run from 2023–2025.