‘Avatars’ helping warfighters with PTSD

| January 28, 2011 | 0 Comments
The welcome center for the T2 Virtual Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Experience is based in the internationally-populated virtual world called Second Life. This immersive, interactive learning activity is a public site designed for warfighters and their families. It educates visitors about combat-related post-traumatic stress and offers resources for seeking help. (Courtesy of National Center for Telehealth and Technology)

The welcome center for the T2 Virtual Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Experience is based in the internationally-populated virtual world called Second Life. This immersive, interactive learning activity is a public site designed for warfighters and their families. It educates visitors about combat-related post-traumatic stress and offers resources for seeking help. (Courtesy of National Center for Telehealth and Technology)

Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

 

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is using virtual world interactivity to educate and help warfighters who are reluctant to seek more direct care to deal with post-traumatic stress, said an official at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, or T2, Jan. 19.

The T2 Virtual Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Experience, based in the internationally-populated virtual world called Second Life, is an immersive, interactive learning activity that educates visitors about combat-related, post-traumatic stress.

The kinds of immersive experiences available in virtual worlds are designed to appeal to tech-savvy service members and their families, said Greg Reger, a clinical psychologist and acting chief of the center’s innovative technology applications division.

“Far too many of our warriors come home and, despite difficulties they are having, are not going to come and see a psychologist, a social worker (or) a psychiatrist,” Reger said.

Researchers have declared traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress to be the “signature wounds” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 19 percent of service members returning from combat screen positive for psychological health problems, and just more than half seek help, the center’s website says, noting that barriers for those who don’t seek help include perceived stigma, physical access barriers and limited resources.

“There’s a lot of great work going on at (the Department of Defense) to address stigma, but it is still an issue,” Reger said, “so we desperately need solutions to get resources into the hands of those who will not give us the opportunity to provide them basic care.”

Virtual worlds are simulated environments wherein users can interact with one other, objects and activities.

“An avatar is basically a computer-generated representation of oneself,” Reger said, adding that users create these computer characters to navigate around the environment to explore and learn.

When avatars come into the virtual space, Reger said, they land at a welcome center that offers information about different deployment-related difficulties and a map of activities available in the T2 virtual experience.

“They leave that area and go into an area that teaches about the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Reger said. “They enter a space where they get into a humvee and are taken through a computer-generated simulation that includes (intense fighting on an Afghan street and) an explosion.

“As this occurs,” he continued, “they receive audio instruction about what we think causes post-traumatic stress disorder, and this sets the stage for the rest of the experience.”

Users then take a simulated flight home, during which they watch a video about post-traumatic stress.

“We know that many of the difficulties that our warriors have, result in increased social isolation and diminished interest in getting outside the home and interacting with other people,” Reger said. “This space (can help) to really get some of these folks connected with each other in a meaningful way that might be helpful.”

T2 is a component of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, which leads a collaborative global network to promote the resilience, recovery and reintegration of warriors and their families.

“We created an environment that lets people learn by doing, rather than reading text and watching videos,” said Kevin Holloway, the psychologist who led T2’s virtual-world development, in a statement. “They can learn something new each time they visit.”

Visit www.t2health.org/vwproj/ to log into the virtual world.

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Category: Armed Forces Press Service, Health, News

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