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Supporting Mental Health Through VR

How a personal loss inspired a technology-based solution to managing mental health. 

By Matteo Valles at Grove VR

3 years ago, our good friend Alex passed away suddenly from drowning due to a shallow water blackout. While the loss was unexpected and painful for us, it was even more so for Alex’s twin brother, Leo. After seeing how it affected Leo, we were inspired to start Grove.

Mental health is only one area that we think VR can play a big role in and we are excited to see what may come in the future Click To Tweet

When Alex passed away, Leo had now lost his best friend and there was nobody around him that could fully relate to that situation. While his friends were there to support him in any way they could, he never got much out of it because they couldn’t possibly understand what he was going through. A few months later though, he found a group called The Twinless Twins Support Group. It was an organization brought together by the experience of losing a twin sibling. Naturally, Leo wanted to meet with the other group members and did so at one of the regional meetings. Needless to say, being around others that had lost their own twin and understood his pain was a profound experience for Leo. He continued to go to meetings whenever he could, whether they were smaller regional meetups in Florida or the large national annual meetup. All of them being just as helpful as the last.

When Alex passed away, Leo had now lost his best friend and there was nobody around him that could fully relate to that situation Click To Tweet

The only problem was that losing a twin is not a common occurrence and thus The Twinless Twins meetings are typically held infrequently and far away from many of its members. For example, the regional meetings are only held once every few months and are usually in a different state than many of its members. While members stay in contact with other support group members between meetings, it is typically just through text or group messages which are helpful but perils compared to meeting in person. That led my brother and me to start toying with the idea of creating something that lets people meet in virtual reality to overcome these issues. Thus Grove was born.

Now over a year since the inception of our idea, the platform is almost complete. Grove allows people to make support groups in virtual reality based around any topic they would like. Issues from depression, anxiety, addiction, loss of a loved one, and much more can all have support groups held within Grove. While the initial idea started by focusing on connecting people across wide distances, we soon discovered many other benefits that the platform provides.

Grove allows people to make support groups in virtual reality based around any topic they would like Click To Tweet

When attending a support group there are often many barriers, like distance in the case of Twinless Twins Support Groups. Other barriers though might be the fear of being known, transportation or membership costs, or not knowing where to find a group. Fortunately, using VR helps overcome the fear of being known due to the use of avatars. While avatars provide a feeling of truly being present with each other, you are able to control what your avatar looks like and thus, what others see of you. You can choose different genders, hairstyles, eye colors, or anything else. Your name is also never given out because Grove only requires an email address to sign up.

Another crucial benefit is that there is no cost associated with attending meetings, whether in transportation cost or membership costs. The platform is offered entirely free to ensure that there is no cost barrier for someone seeking a support group. As long as a user has internet and a headset they can attend from anywhere including their home.

There is no cost associated with attending meetings Click To Tweet

As long as a user has internet and a headset they can attend from anywhere including their home Click To Tweet

Lastly, Grove makes it simple to find the support group you need. By bringing a variety of support groups and topics to a central location, it is easy to type in the topic you are looking for (ex. depression, addiction, etc.) and find all the groups related to that topic and when they meet.

Benefits like these and many more have driven us to continue creating Grove so that people like Leo and many others can have consistent and easy access to the best support groups possible. And now with a year of development complete and only a couple months until launching the platform on Oculus headsets, we are launching a Kickstarter campaign to push Grove across the finish line. While Grove is offered entirely free, some money is needed to launch the platform including development, headsets, marketing, and legal fees. Once the Kickstarter is complete, we will be able to finish testing the platform, gathering feedback from early users, and launch in February 2020.

Benefits like these and many more have driven us to continue creating Grove so that people like Leo and many others can have consistent and easy access to the best support groups possible Click To Tweet

By bringing a variety of support groups and topics to a central location, it is easy to type in the topic you are looking for Click To Tweet

Once launched, Grove will be one of the few apps on the Oculus store that are not game- or entertainment-focused. However, we hope that as VR improves and it becomes more widespread, that more and more companies will begin creating more real-world applications for VR. Mental health is only one area that we think VR can play a big role in and we are excited to see what may come in the future.

Once launched, Grove will be one of the few apps on the Oculus store that are not game- or entertainment-focused Click To Tweet

If you have struggled with mental health in the past or know someone who has and would like to support Grove’s Kickstarter campaign, you can do so here.