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A scene from one of Rey's VR treatment sessions. Credit: Rey

A new startup is using VR to treat social anxiety and other mental health issues.

Why it matters: An estimated 15 million Americans suffer from social anxiety, but treatment can be expensive and difficult to access.

  • VR can offer targeted treatment that can be done at home and at a more economical cost.

How it works: Austin-based Rey provides VR sessions that put users in a virtual environment that allows them to work through their challenges in a safe space and help "rewire the circuitry" that can cause crippling anxiety, says Deepak Gopalakrishnan, the company's founder and CEO.

  • That can mean navigating a doctor's office or another social situation in virtual space, and learning over time to manage the feelings of anxiety that may arise.
  • Human coaches provide guidance that help users internalize coping mechanisms for when anxiety strikes, while offline modules accessed via a phone or computer can further reinforce those lessons.

What they're saying: "The immersion and the feeling that you're actually interacting with another human being or another character allows you to sort of work through layers of cognition and understand that the belief patterns you have aren't necessarily true," says Gopalakrishnan.

By the numbers: A peer-reviewed study by Oxford University psychologist Daniel Freeman — who is also Rey's scientific founder — concluded that patients who used automated VR therapy experienced a 38% decrease in anxiety and avoidant symptoms over a six-week period.

The bottom line: While the idea of a virtual metaverse may seem icky to many, the scale and adaptability of VR will have valuable social uses.

Go deeper: Virtual reality isn't all fun and games

Go deeper

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Nov 15, 2021 - Health

Increased depression ups heart risk

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nearly 40% of patients reported new or continuing symptoms of depression in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic — a problem that could lead to increases in future physical health problems, according to a new study by Intermountain Healthcare.

Why it matters: The study, presented this weekend at American Heart Association's virtual 2021 Scientific Session, warns that the uptick could be linked to future increases in heart concerns.

26 mins ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."

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