Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, is very open about his plans for the metaverse and he’s hardly the only one. Corporations such as Microsoft, Nvidia and Niantic are also pursuing metaverse goals. However, experts have shared concerns about how the metaverse at large will affect the mental health of its users.
The Metaverse Mental Health Debate
Throughout history, new technologies have often brought about concerns that it will affect the mental health of those who use them. While most fears have proved baseless, considering how genetics and socioeconomic status are the primary influences on mental health, some experts believe that a metaverse – as a fully immersive virtual experience – does have the potential to cause genuine harm.
According to an article in Psychology Today, scientific evidence links overusing digital technologies to mental health problems and can lead to users preferring virtual reality over the real world. “A young person who may be LGBT and who finds an online context where they can feel a sense of social support—we would predict that that would be a benefit for their mental health,” said professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, Nick Allen, “On the other hand, if using metaverse technologies replaces non-online behaviors that are healthy and supportive to mental health, like appropriate exercise, engagement in relationships in real life, healthy sleep, time spent in natural environments, then they can be harmful.”
Therapy in the Metaverse
Despite the potential for the metaverse to negatively impact mental health, it also offers great potential for various types of healthcare. Several health metaverses already exist, like Hekka Labs’ healthcare ecosystem. Virtual reality is helpful in exposure therapy, which deals with exposing a patient to a fear or phobia within a safe setting.
“The interactive nature of the metaverse could provide a different arena for online therapy to take place, which may even improve access to therapy for disabled people with a better, more life-like experience,” said a Ph.D. candidate at the University of York, Anna Bailie.